By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, at American Public University
Whose job is it to teach college students to write a paper? According to Dr. Karan Powell, President of American Public University, it is the job of all of us to teach writing in our classes.
Dr. Powell went on to describe how all universities have inherited a problem from the high school system. Students are not being taught critical thinking skills. They do not know how to conduct research or how to write a short paper summarizing an article they have read.
Students’ Inability to Write Continues during College Years
When I started teaching at Old Dominion University in 1995 and later at the University of Alaska, the inability of college students to compose a proper sentence was a symptom of a much larger problem in our educational system.
I remember my discussions with teachers in the English departments of various colleges. They told me they had a solution to that symptom: They simply did not require freshmen and sophomore students to write papers. So when those students arrived in my junior and senior classes or attended graduate school, they hit a wall of uncertainty, confusion and expectations.
When I left the brick-and-mortar classroom for the online classroom, the problem remained. Although these non-traditional students were much older than those fresh from high school, they still had the inability to write clearly.
What do we do as teachers of logistics, transportation or some other subject? We have to pick up the slack of our public schools and some colleges. We must not only teach what a supply chain is or how to inventory a warehouse; we also have to teach students how to write clearly and correctly because proper communication is a vital business skill.
Instructors Must Become Students’ Writing Coaches
Many online universities are now facing the same writing problem from their students. As teachers, we have to use our ability to write and become our students’ coaches.
One method that I have used is to require students to write short, one-page papers each week starting in week 2 of an eight-week course. The grading scale can slide a bit on the first two or three papers until the students get the knack of how to use citations for a quote and get over their fear of actually crafting an opinion.
Does it take extra work? You bet. But the rewards for the student and their families are well worth it on graduation day. Many former students have thanked me more for teaching them how to put their thoughts on paper than learning the course curriculum.
We instructors have inherited this problem from other educational institutions. It is now our responsibility to correct it by teaching proper writing in all our classes.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a professor of transportation and logistics at American Public University (APU). He is the former program director of Reverse Logistics Management and Transportation and Logistics Management. Prior to joining APU, Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His book, RFID Metrics, was published in 2007 by CRC Press and is in revision.