Students write all the time. They text, they tweet, they write Facebook posts, but what happens when they try to write a paper, or when they graduate and are asked to write an analysis of a technical problem, a contract or a professional paper?

The UNM Provost’s office is looking at ways the university might improve writing and critical analysis skills. A faculty committee appointed by Provost Chaouki Abdallah and co-chaired by Daniel Sanford, director of the Center for Academic Program Support and Aeron Haynie director of the Center for Teaching Excellence is exploring the ways writing is taught at UNM.

“The challenge of improving student writing cannot be met by any single program or department, and can only be accomplished on a university wide level,” Sanford said. “The committee provides a venue for representatives from writing-oriented programs to make one another aware of their efforts, work towards common interests and articulate shared goals.”

Currently schools and colleges at the university mostly rely on core curriculum composition courses in the Department of English to give students the foundation they need to communicate. But the kind of writing a student does in freshman English is a far cry from the kind of writing a professional engineer needs to do on contracts or the kind of writing a biomedical researcher needs for professional publications.

Last spring the committee began discussing whether UNM needs to push the writing experience deep into the individual disciplines. The project is called Writing across the Curriculum. Members want to guide the formation of a university wide writing program that can provide the provost with coherent recommendations related to development of a written competency.                  

This summer the committee is working on recommendations which include

* Enrich degree programs with writing by creating writing-intensive courses at all academic levels.

* Support faculty and degree programs in articulating expectations for student writing and creating appropriate assignments and interventions.

* Work with the Center for Teaching Excellence to train faculty, part time instructors and teaching assistants from across the university in teaching writing within the disciplines, and in the use of writing as a tool for learning.

* Create a centralized Writing across the Curriculum Program, led by a tenured WAC director to oversee support for writing and writing instruction.

They have arranged for a delegation from the Council of Writing Program Administrators to visit UNM in October. Haynie says the committee is interested in exploring new ideas such as low stakes writing – taking a few minutes of class time to let students write their understanding of a particular concept so faculty members can understand whether the students are capable of articulating the concept in writing.

Sanford says they hope the delegation can help them understand what kind of changes might be beneficial and what kind of changes might be needed at the department or school level to improve the writing and critical thinking skills students need to master. They are already thinking about how the program might support the Foundation of Excellence Initiatives and are working on developing an inventory of writing oriented resources at UNM.

Part of the discussion is about whether additional resources will be needed. In the longer term, the committee may recommend changes in curriculum to address communication competencies as required by the New Mexico Higher Education Department and the UNM core curriculum.