Written Communication Competencies: Strengths and Weaknesses of Agricultural Education Graduate Students

By Lindner, James R.; Murphy, Tim H. et al. | NACTA Journal, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Written Communication Competencies: Strengths and Weaknesses of Agricultural Education Graduate Students


Lindner, James R., Murphy, Tim H., Wingenbach, Gary J., Kelsey, Kathleen D., NACTA Journal


Abstract

The purpose of this study was to assess and describe the written communication competency strengths and weaknesses of selected agricultural education graduate students. Content analysis techniques were used to analyze writing samples from 44 graduate students enrolled in two different courses at three universities. The instrument used to gather data was designed by Texas A&M University's Department of English's Writing Program's Office (WPO) and the researchers. The instruments were collected by the researchers and delivered to the WPO for analysis. The analysis consisted of an overall writing strength assessment and sentence level structure assessment.

Data showed a majority of graduate students who participated in this study had inadequacies in their writing abilities. Students had greatest difficulties with 1) development of a supported and logical argument, 2) development of a clear thesis and introduction, and 3) the ability to write a grammatically correct paper. Recommendations include a pre-acceptance assessment of student writing skills as an admissions criterion for graduate programs, professional development training in writing competence, and inclusion of writing assignments as a criterion for grading. Additional strategies for improving agricultural education graduate student writing are provided.

Introduction

Scholarship takes on many forms in academia. Boyer's (1990) original forms of scholarship (the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching), provided a starting point of discussion among faculty in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University. Following a year of discussion, the group of faculty changed from the scholarship of teaching to the scholarship of learning and teaching, and added creative artistry as the fifth type of scholarship, resulting in scholarship defined simply as creative intellectual work that is validated and communicated (Weiser & Houglum, 1998). The American Psychological Association (APA, 2001) noted that "just as a disciplined scientific investigation contributes to the growth and development of a field, so too does carefully crafted writing contribute to the value of scientific literature" (p. 31). APA further noted that "the prime objective of scientific reporting" is to "achieve clear communication."

The ability of graduate students to express themselves correctly, clearly, and articulately may be the most important attribute for students to possess when entering a graduate program (Rajagopalan, 1999). The sole evidence of a student's performance in many graduate courses is measured by a single research paper or similar forms of advanced inquiry. Research indicates that there are many benefits of good writing. Writing supports learning through the whole brain processes of doing, depicting, and symbolizing (Emig, 1988). Students retain more information learned with writing-to-learn techniques than with traditional teaching methods (Reaves, et. al., 1993). Job success may also be dependent on oral and written communication skills (Sprecker & Rudd, 1997; 1998).

The ability to communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand is essential for most academic endeavors in a graduate program (Lindner, et. al., 2001). These authors stated further that little is known about acceptable levels of written communication abilities needed by students to be successful in a graduate program. Low levels of writing competence may result in problems such as attrition among graduate students, or it may result in opportunities for faculty to gain a better understanding of student characteristics. In a study of agricultural education doctoral students' competencies, Lindner and Dooley (2002) found that doctoral students perceived growth in their writing abilities as they progressed through the program. Recognizing the limitations of self-reported data, these authors recommended that students' abilities be assessed using authentic assessments. …

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