First Writing Excellence institute concludes


Mississippi State recently concluded the Maroon Institute for Writing Excellence, with 10 faculty members having learned how to apply writing-to-learn strategies in their courses. The initiative is part of the university's quality enhancement plan. PHOTO: Beth Wynn | University Relations

Nine Mississippi State faculty are the first class of graduates in a new university training program focused on using writing to foster student understanding and concept retention.

The Maroon Institute for Writing Excellence involved an interdisciplinary group of experienced campus educators. During 13 intensive classes in June, they employed writing-to-learn strategies both in class and out as a new way to design course syllabi and focus classroom assignments.

While the volunteer participants also read, studied and discussed these approaches, they mostly wrote.

"Many of us had no idea what we were signing up for in the institute," said Deborah Lee, MSU Libraries professor. "We entered as believers and doubters, and we challenged those beliefs. We had stimulating discussion. We wrote and we wrote and we wrote. We became a community of knowledgeable peers, and that is what our goal is -- to create those in our classes."

Creating a new culture where writing-to-learn is an integral part of undergraduate education at MSU is the land-grant institution's quality enhancement plan, "Maroon and Write," said Tim Chamblee, director of the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness.

"This QEP isn't just about better writing; it's about better learning," said Rich Raymond, English department head and institute facilitator.

"It is exciting to witness the enthusiasm exhibited by everyone as we embark on this journey," Chamblee agreed. "I look forward to seeing where Maroon and Write takes us. I hope that writing-to-learn becomes a part of the fabric of our undergraduate education and is no longer seen as something extra to be added in a class."

The QEP will play a major role in the university's reaffirmation of accreditation. The nine inaugural graduates will work with colleagues in their respective departments and colleges to help expand the writing-to-learn culture, he said.

Three graduates will introduce writing-to-learn strategies in their 2013 fall semester classes. Students will write-to-learn in English instructor Latoya Bogard's Introduction to Literature course, as well as in associate professor Matthew Little's American literature survey class. Forestry professor Stephen Grado will incorporate them in his forest resources survey class.

The six other graduates will launch writing-to-learn classes in 2014.

Lee will incorporate writing-to-learn approaches in an introduction to information literacy course, and Michael Brown, music department head, will apply those strategies in history and appreciation of music. Jamie Larson, animal and dairy science assistant professor, will use them in practice in physiology of reproduction, while Robert Moore, marketing professor, will encourage his students to write-to-learn in Internet marketing. Rick Noffsinger, part-time human sciences instructor and senior extension associate, will use this teaching technique in introduction to technical writing in agricultural communication, and Donald Shaffer, English and African-American studies assistant professor, will apply it to introduction to African-American studies.

"You've taken part in this institute to learn better approaches to teaching writing, which we determined as part of the QEP topic selection process that writing was a very much needed skill for our students," said Connie M. Forde, QEP topic selection task force and development co-chair. "We can do a better job of teaching writing, and that's the purpose of the quality enhancement plan, to teach writing and improve it.

"Maroon and Write is off to a wonderful start," she said.

Leah Barbour | University Relations

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