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The future of college writing

One-quarter of the nation’s college students will be able to communicate in at least two languages by 2025, according to Mya Poe, an assistant professor of English whose expertise lies in linguistic diversity.

In a lecture on Wednesday afternoon in the Raytheon Amphitheater, she said the influx of international students is but one of four trends in education that are poised to change the teaching of writing. Other trends comprise remediation; the use of technology; and the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a U.S. education reform movement backed by the Obama administration that seeks to set uniform standards in English and mathematics for grades K-12.

“Students come from different experiences and from different test-taking contexts,” said Poe, who joined the Northeastern faculty this fall and whose forthcoming book will examine the effect of writing assessment on multilingual writers and students of color. “Rigid institutional requirements particularly affect international students,” she added, noting that many writing programs routinely ignore their educational needs.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, on the other hand, is designed to address student needs by providing a “consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them,” according to the program’s website.

But Poe is not sold on the initiative’s educational value, saying that “the standards are dramatically changing what students are reading and writing in high school English class.”

Some high school students might need to enroll in compensatory education courses in college, a score of which have begun outsourcing remedial education through contractual agreements with community colleges.

“It’s like the ostrich in the sand problem,” Poe explained. “If the students don’t exist, then you don’t have to think about them.”

Outsourcing basic writing courses to a patchwork group of instructors often results in an unbalanced learning experience, Poe explained. For that reason, she said, “We need to think of other support mechanisms to help students with their writing.”

Automated essay scoring programs might be one way to teach students about the dos and don’ts of writing, but Poe said their assessments are often based on descriptive measures such as the frequency with which certain words are used.

“We need to invest in educational entrepreneurship to develop technology we want for writing not just for testing,” she said.

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