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Student Writing

18 Aug Posted by in Academics, Faculty, Students | 8 comments
Student Writing

Here’s a neat way to try to keep ourselves educationally honest, as we deal with the many challenges to America’s university system: continue to pay real attention to student writing.

I’ve never been one of the direst lamenters of student writing, which might be a sign of relaxed standards (measurable also by authoring so many books), though I don’t think so.  Certainly I regularly require and assess writing, and undue complaints aside, I’m grateful that many other faculty take it at least as seriously.

A decade ago American higher ed was routinely blasted for paying insufficient attention to writing. I think this has trailed off (I may be wrong), save from some faculty members themselves. A wider public has either become satisfied, has given up, has decided to pay so much attention to STEM that writing gets forgotten or – and this is my preferred hypothesis – is so bent on trying to save money on higher education that writing standards, which are expensive, slip from the screen.

But writing remains important. It’s vital for job performance. It’s directly linked to critical thinking. It deserves new attention among an increasingly global student clientele.

Yet here’s my fear: that in fact all the penny pinching and high tech emphasis will progressively push us from adequate training and assessment, in favor of machine-graded exercises which have yet to prove much value where writing is concerned. (I do not discount some technology aids or other innovations, but I suspect their impact will remain limited save insofar as we decide to kid ourselves that writing is still being honored.)

Mason has impressive strengths in writing – which does not mean all our graduates do as well as we should wish. We have two levels of required coursework; splendid creative writing programs at all levels; and a writing across the curriculum that ranks nationally in the top group. Lest this kind of honor be suspect, we have deep commitment from programs as technical as Nursing to pay real attention to writing quality; the effort is genuine.

So we need, at the least, to keep up to the mark, even as we innovate educationally in other respects. This means continuing to invest in appropriate training, including suitable class sizes, and assuring adequate periodic assessment. The point is not mindless grammar exercises or other narrow measurements, but a real encouragement to clear expression and the clear thought that accompanies it. Anything else, to paraphrase Winston Churchill on a related topic, is a deterioration up with which we will not put.