By Scott Torres
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
The University of the Incarnate Word has enlisted two longtime faculty members to tell how student writing will be improved in a special report for an Atlanta-based accrediting agency.
Dr. Kathi Light, the provost, has selected Dr. Patricia Lonchar, a longtime English professor and former assistant dean, and Dr. Susan Hall, director of The Teaching and Learning Center at UIW, to begin writing the research paper required for the Quality Enhancement Program or QEP.
The QEP is part of a reaccreditation process where UIW is required to turn in a report by December to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, detailing how UIW will implement changes across campus expected to make a major impact on student writing.
After a year of input from the UIW community, the university announced last September that the chosen topic for the QEP would be to improve student writing.
Outside research has shown writing is one of the top improvements that employers would like to see in students and that improved writing has a positive impact on the grades and performance of a student, said Dr. Glenn James, UIW’s assistant provost and director of assessment.
“In general, what we were able to see was that many UIW students’ writing was weak in a lot of basic areas,” James said. “We were able to pinpoint, very specifically, where we can help.”
Lonchar and Hall “in particular are great at writing this kind of plan,” James said. “They are well on their way to conceiving the plan and the writing has gone fantastically.”
Lonchar and Hall’s mission is to write the full report and help conceive the plan for the next five years of the QEP. Lonchar and Hall began by looking at the accrediting agency’s QEP requirements to ensure they covered the required areas. Then, they began to use the data the university has collected over the years to look for patterns.
“The university collects a lot of data, and we had the opportunity to look at data we wouldn’t normally see,” Hall said. “So we started with a lot of in-house data, and also did a lot of reading.”
They also surveyed faculty and followed up with departments.
“The faculty response has been extremely positive,” Hall said. “We got a very robust response. Faculty members have very strong opinions about writing.”
Changes have been made based on the response from faculty and their research. This portion of the QEP also helped unify the faculty across departments.
“We’re all working in this together and that has been exciting for Susan and me,” Lonchar said.
The duo has also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Barbara Walvoord, an author and outside expert in teaching and improving student writing.
“(Walvoord) brings with her that experience of the things that have worked and the things that have not, which at the end of the day can lead to students writing better,” James said.
Walvoord has visited the UIW campus for a faculty workshop on how to improve writing and will return May 14 for another.
According to the QEP website, the “big idea” has been broken up into three general areas. These areas are building a faculty network with knowledge of writing instruction, increasing each faculty member’s ‘toolbox’ of writing strategies in their discipline, and increasing the amount of writing UIW students do. None of these are set in stone yet and many changes could be made before the implementation process begins.
The main goal appears to be for students to learn how to transfer what they have learned about writing to the disciplines they are studying or are working in. There also seem to be changes that may improve student-teacher communication about grading and writing which should help students in the long run.
“In the short run I would hope that students come to their writing taskswith more confidence and more interest,” Hall said. “It is about the students. Everything you want to do in a QEP needs to describe how it’s going to support student learning.”
“What it may do is make students more aware of how they do use writing in any area in their lives,” Lonchar said. “We know one of the most important skills for any graduate is the ability to communicate effectively and competently.”