This semester, as a postdoctoral fellow at the Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute, I have begun working with the Zicklin School of Business on the development of its Writing Initiative, which aims to strengthen students’ writing and critical thinking skills across the undergraduate business disciplines. Part of this collective effort is driven by the realization that, in an increasingly competitive labor market, our students need to become proficient writers, whether their major is Finance or Marketing. In her recent piece for CNBC, business journalist Kelley Holland notes that “many employers complain that they can’t find qualified candidates.” One reason, they cite, is “candidates’ inability …to write clearly.” Whether it is a one-page office memorandum, a three-page executive summary, a business proposal, or a letter to investors, a piece of writing needs to state its main points and do so in lucid, persuasive language. To this end, the Initiative also focuses on genre and audience.
Although writing assignments are already an integral part of many courses at Zicklin, the need to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive and complex job market means that we have to refine, and in some instances rethink, current writing projects. A foray into this Initiative was an intensive workshop last spring in which Zicklin faculty from various disciplines met with staff from the Schwartz Communication Institute. They discussed objectives, shared concerns such as how to structure, implement and grade writing projects, and drafted assignments. All of these elements are part of our “laboratory,” as we begin putting ideas into practice and immerse ourselves in this joint venture. In supporting faculty efforts to make writing an important feature of their courses, I also am addressing an understandable concern: how to include writing assignments in courses that focus on financial analysis or operations management. Where can one create room for writing assignments in courses that are already filled with lectures and projects specifically related to Accounting or Management topics? Discovering how writing is elemental to a business course’s learning outcomes begins to address some of these concerns.
Of course, in order for any writing assignment to be effective, it must be clearly linked to overall course objectives and worded so that students understand precisely what is expected of them—and why. Clearly expressed prompts are essential to both students’ comprehension of an assignment’s details, and their understanding of how the assignment relates to the material being studied in a given course. Thus, part of my effort in assignment (re)design is to help faculty formulate clear descriptions of assignments within the context of learning goals and course content. We are also developing grading rubrics for these assignments—rubrics that not only offer a framework for grading a project, but also provide a springboard towards assessment for a given assignment and course. I call upon my background as a Writing-across-the-Curriculum and Communication Fellow, and my experience teaching English composition and literature, when I sit down with faculty to design and pilot assignments, give in-class presentations, work one-on-one with students in reviewing their drafts, and plan faculty roundtables that will support these initiatives. One of our long-term goals is to draw business faculty together in an ongoing, shared praxis.
The Writing Initiative is also guided by the desire to ask business students to think of themselves as writers, as well as accountants, managers, or entrepreneurs. The Writing Center and the Student Academic Consulting Center are partners in this Initiative. Their one-on-one and group tutorials provide invaluable support for all students at Baruch, and they offer sessions tailored for ESL and nonnative learners. Through this Initiative, we want students to see proficient writing as essential to their professional lives and their broader roles as critical thinkers and engaged citizens. Thus, we are working to incorporate not only well-developed writing assignments into business courses, but also a culture of writing into the curriculum at Zicklin. In other words, the goal of helping Zicklin’s students produce strong writing for school and workplace is connected with the belief that writing is essential to their lives as thoughtful leaders and productive members of their communities.