Walden University Writing Center Interactive Modules: Student Writing Support Any Time, Anywhere

Author Information
Author(s): 
Beth Nastachowski
Author(s): 
Kayla Skarbakka
Author(s): 
Rachel Willard
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Walden University Writing Center
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The Walden University Writing Center (WUWC) is an entirely online writing center serving an online university primarily composed of graduate students. Both Walden students and faculty report writing skills to be a barrier of success. The WUWC provides numerous resources for students to develop their writing skills. Recently the WUWC developed self-paced writing modules as an additional resource for students to improve their writing. These open-access, self-paced modules curate already-created WUWC resources and add interactive activities, quizzes, and a certificate of completion. Data the WUWC has collected indicate that student knowledge increases on average 95% after taking a module, and students report being more confident with the module’s topic. Walden faculty are also enthusiastic about the modules, directing students to the modules and incorporating them into their classrooms. To date over 500 students have accessed the modules. The WUWC’s self-paced modules are available for any student to complete and any faculty can use them with their students, creating an effective way for students to develop their writing skills.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Background on Walden University and the Writing Center
The Walden University Writing Center (WUWC) is an entirely online writing center serving an online university primarily composed of graduate students. Writing is particularly important for Walden University’s students because Walden is both (a) online and (b) primarily focused on master’s and doctoral education. Online education is, by nature, writing-focused as students interact with their classmates and faculty via written discussion posts and assignments. Graduate education is also writing-centric as it asks students to develop researching and synthesizing skills through writing. The WUWC thus functions to support Walden and all student writers in developing their skills in a variety of ways, including its innovative creation of open-access, self-paced, interactive writing modules to help any student develop his or her writing skills.

Writing skills have increasingly become both a priority for employers and a barrier to student success at the college level. Although 4 out of 5 employers rate “the ability to effectively communicate in writing” as very important1, Walden University faculty described students’ writing skills when they begin their program as “problematic” or “very problematic.”2 Students themselves also report writing skills as a barrier to success. At Walden University, 13% of students reported considering dropping a class because of their writing skills, and writing interventions for at-risk students in the form of writing classes have been shown to increase the likelihood that students continued their program by 46%.3

The WUWC works to respond to students’ need for writing instruction, both to succeed in their programs and to exit the university with the strong writing skills employers demand. With a historical student-to-staff ratio of 2,500-to-1, the WUWC has, by necessity and through innovation, developed a range of open-access resources to help students develop their writing skills throughout their time at Walden. These resources include a large website with writing, grammar, and APA information, social media resources that include a weekly blog and monthly podcast, large scale webinars, and now writing modules.

Rationale for Writing Center Self-Paced, Interactive Modules
The WUWC is integral to Walden students’ development of writing skills: 90% of students who used the center reported the WUWC having a positive impact on their grades and 93% of students reported the WUWC having a positive impact on their writing.4

However, there are three impediments to students using the WUWC and its resources. First, many resources the WC offers can be difficult for students to find, as each blog post, webpage, webinar, and podcast on the same topic are housed in different areas. Second, these resources do not offer students the opportunity to practice what they are learning or receive formative feedback, creating a gap in the WUWC’s resources. Third and finally, some Walden faculty find it frustrating that they cannot confirm students have visited the WUWC’s resources.

The WUWC’s open-access, self-paced, interactive writing modules were created to address the above hurdles, as well as fill a gap in the WUWC’s resources, which Walden students themselves identified. When Walden students were asked what additional resources they would like to see from the WUWC in the university’s yearly survey, 30% of the respondents requested self-paced modules.5 Within this context, the WUWC created interactive, self-paced modules with the following goals:
--Curate the in-depth and effective resources the WUWC already has on its website, blog, podcast, and webinar archive so students can easily access instruction on a given topic.
--Provide students with formative feedback on a given topic, accessible anytime and anywhere.
--Test students’ knowledge to show improvement in writing skills and provide proof of completion to faculty.

WUWC Module Development Timeline
The WUWC began developing modules in 2014 with four grammar modules, one focused on each of the following topics: sentence basics; verb tense; nouns, pronouns, and articles; and modifiers. Each module was created in Adobe Captivate 5 and included the following tutorials:
(1) a premodule quiz to test students’ beginning knowledge;
(2) tutorials that included webpages, blog posts, video clips, and podcast clips, as well as Captivate presentations so students can practice what they are learning;
(3) a postmodule quiz to test how much students have learned; and
(4) a certificate of completion.

Between 2014 and 2015, the WUWC distributed the grammar modules to students and faculty. During that time, the WUWC revised the modules based on student, faculty, and staff feedback. Changes included the inclusion of more activities to give students formative feedback and adjustments to the postmodule quizzes so questions were randomized each time a student attempted the quiz. Additionally, the WUWC reflected on the benefits the modules offered to faculty, students, and the WUWC and planned for the project’s next stage.

The WUWC began the project’s next stage in 2015, expanding the module topics to plagiarism prevention and APA. These modules were developed throughout 2015, and in early 2016 the WUWC created and published two plagiarism prevention modules and six citation and reference modules on the following topics:
(a) Overt plagiarism
(b) Passive plagiarism
(c)Essential components and purpose of APA reference entries
(d) Journal article reference entries
(e) Book reference entries
(f) Webpage reference entries
(g) Basic citation formatting
(h) Basic citation frequency

These modules address a wide range of reference entry and citation topics and follow the same tutorial organization as the original grammar modules: Each module curates already-created WUWC resources, adding quizzes, interactive activities, and formative feedback to allow students to test their knowledge as well as practice with the module’s content.

Student Satisfaction, Confidence, and Improvement with Self-Paced Modules
The WUWC’s modules have succeeded in expanding student access to WUWC resources and improving their writing skills in a number of ways. To date, 558 students have used the modules, with over 100 students per month using the modules just since the start of 2016. This number will continue to grow as faculty increasingly refer students to the modules and embed the modules in their courses. Faculty have been enthusiastic in response to the modules, with numerous faculty and program administrators incorporating the modules into program academic integrity processes and foundation courses across the university. As one faculty member said, the WUWC’s modules give “me some place to send the writer without making them take a long class or pay for something else.”

Not only is student use of and faculty enthusiasm for the modules growing, students also report high satisfaction with the modules. In a survey students took after completing a module, they responded to Likert-type questions as follows (complete survey results here): 95% of the students either agreed or strongly agreed that the module provided thorough writing instruction; 97% students agreed or strongly agreed that the module achieved the goal of teaching them how to use the module’s topic in their own writing; and 97% of students agreed or strongly agreed that taking the module had a positive impact on their current writing assignment. These results clearly show that students both view the modules as having a high quality of instruction as well as having a direct impact on improving their writing skills. As one student noted, the WUWC module he/she took was “very helpful, it help me to understand what I need to do differently to become a scholar writer.”

The modules have also been proven effective in student learning and improvement in writing skills (complete student improvement data here). In each module, the average student score for the postmodule quiz is 95% higher than the premodule quiz, illustrating the improvement in student learning. In the citation formatting module, for example, student scores improved an average of 250% in the postmodule quiz (scoring, on average, 25% on the premodule quiz and 88% on the postmodule quiz).

Lastly, the final measure of the modules’ success is student confidence with the module topics. Students’ confidence indicates their level of comfort with a topic, another important component of student learning as students’ confidence in their writing skills has been linked with their ability to improve their writing skills.6 Students report low confidence with the modules’ topics before completing the module (complete confidence data here): Only 3% of students report that they were very confident and only 28% report they were confident. After taking the module, students report a large increase in confidence: 78% of students report that they are very confident and 16% of students report they are confident. Significantly, no students have reported a lack of confidence after completing any of the modules.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

The data that the WUWC has collected since 2014 illustrate the effectiveness of the self-paced modules (complete data charts available here):

--558 students have used the modules, a number that continues to grow as faculty and students discover the modules. Based on current usage, the WUWC anticipates that over 1,400 students will use the modules in 2016.
--95% of the students either agreed or strongly agreed that the module provided thorough writing instruction
--97% students agreed or strongly agreed that the module achieved the goal of teaching them how to use the module’s topic in their own writing
--97% of students agreed or strongly agreed that taking the module had a positive impact on their current writing assignment.
--94% of students report being confident or very confident with the module’s topic after completing the module, an increase of 66%.
--0% of students reported being only somewhat or not confident with the module’s topic after completing the module, a decrease of 32% from students’ confidence before completing the module.
--95% average increase in students’ postmodule scores over the premodule score.

Beyond this student satisfaction, confidence, and skill improvement score data, faculty enthusiasm for the modules also indicates their success. The WUWC has received numerous requests by individual faculty and program directors to incorporate the modules into courses and as a part of academic integrity remediation processes. This enthusiasm will have a cascading effect as more and more students are able to use the modules to improve their writing skills each semester.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Learning Effectiveness: The WUWC’s modules show improvement in students’ writing skills, as illustrated by the improvements in students’ scores from the premodule quiz to the postmodule quiz. However, students themselves have also reported the WUWC’s modules as being effective at helping students develop writing skills at the same rate as other instructional methods in the WUWC. For example, student satisfaction of the modules is on par with the WUWC’s live webinar series: 97% of students in 2015 agreed or strongly agreed that the WUWC’s webinar series achieve its goal of helping students develop writing skills; the same percentage of students agree or strongly agree that the modules achieve their goal of teaching students how to apply the module’s topic to their writing. Additionally, faculty incorporation of the modules into courses and academic integrity remediation processes illustrate faculty’s preference for this method of teaching students writing skills in the classroom. As the modules are integrated into courses and these processes in the next year, the WUWC will be able to gain further data on their effectiveness within the classroom as well.

Scale: The WUWC’s modules are scalable and cost effective for three reasons centering around how they were created, how they are maintained, and how they are accessed:
--The modules curate the already-created, in-depth, and effective resources at the WUWC--there wasn’t any need to recreate content that already existed on webpages, blog posts, videos, and podcasts. This approach saved the WUWC time and cost as the modules were built from a solid foundation of instructional resources rather than started from scratch.

--The modules are cost effective for the WUWC to maintain, update, and revise. The WUWC staff created and has access to all of the modules, so the WUWC can be responsive to faculty and student feedback and make changes at a moment’s notice. This responsiveness also includes the continual revision and addition of features and functions in the modules, resulting in a resource that isn’t static, but one that is ever changing and improving.

--Finally, the modules are open access and available to anyone at any time. This means that not only can Walden students complete a module without worrying about cost, so can any student at any institution. Additionally, any faculty at any institution can use these modules with their students. This open-access approach aligns with the WUWC’s philosophy of keeping its website and social media open-access so all students can benefit from these instructional resources.

Access: As mentioned above, the WUWC’s modules are entirely open-access and free for any student to use, regardless of their institution. All a student needs to use the modules is a computer and an Internet connection. Students can also start a module, stop, and then come back to the module to start where they left off. While faculty may ask students to complete a module as part of a course, any student is also free to complete the module on their own for their own benefit and learning.

Faculty Satisfaction: Faculty satisfaction is illustrated in two ways in the WUWC’s modules:
--First, the self-paced modules are created by the full-time professional writing instructors at the WUWC. Eight writing instructors have been involved with creating the modules, and many others have helped test and market the modules. Because the WUWC has such a central role in the writing instruction at Walden University, the involvement of the WUWC writing instructors is an important indicator of the modules’ importance and place within writing instruction at Walden University.
--Second, the self-paced modules are also approved by Walden University faculty. Dozens of faculty and program directors at Walden have inquired and begun incorporating the modules into their courses, programs, and academic integrity remediation processes. Faculty use of the modules will increase as the modules continue to be marketed in 2016, so the WUWC expects continued growth in this area.

Student Satisfaction: The WUWC’s modules fulfill student expectations in many ways. First, students’ answers in a survey after they complete a module indicates their satisfaction with the modules’ instruction:
--95% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that the module provided thorough writing instruction
--97% students agreed or strongly agreed that the module achieved the goal of teaching them how to use the module’s topic in their own writing
--97% of students agreed or strongly agreed that taking the module had a positive impact on their current writing assignment.

Beyond student satisfaction, students also report being more confident with the module’s topic after completing the module:
--94% of students report being confident or very confident with the module’s topic after completing the module, an increase of 66%.
--0% of students reported being only somewhat or not confident with the module’s topic after completing the module, a decrease of 32% from students’ confidence before completing the module.

Finally, students also show a marked increase in knowledge when comparing their average premodule quiz scores to the postmodule quiz scores:
--95% average increase in students’ postmodule scores over the premodule score.
--All modules show an increase in students’ scores from the premodule quiz to the postmodule quiz.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Student access: The WUWC’s are open-access, available to any student on any computer with an Internet connection. Students create an account within the WUWC module system with an email address, and they then are able to register for any of the WUWC modules. Students can close a module and return at a later time and start where they left off.
If an institution wanted to create their own modules, the following would be should be considered:

Technology: The WUWC used Captivate 5 and Captivate 9 as the authoring tool for creating the modules, while Adobe Connect training and events is the LMS that houses the modules. Students access each module through the WUWC’s website, which is created on the LibGuide platform.

The technology needed to create self-paced modules depends on the institution, but two primary factors should be considered: the authoring tool and the LMS. The WUWC recommends educators investigate the resources their institution already has to determine whether they can use already-purchased or institution-supported resources. Additionally, LMSs and authoring tools can vary greatly in (a) cost, (b) functionality, and (c) student access. If an institution does not already have resources educators can use, careful reflection on goals and consideration of these three factors should be taken before moving forward.

Skills and expertise: Beyond technological equipment, the WUWC staff also needed to develop knowledge and skills with the tools and processes needed to begin and sustain the development of self-paced modules. This included staff developing skills in instructional design, project management, Adobe Captivate 5 and 9, video and audio editing, and Adobe Connect.

The skills and expertise an educator will need to implement this practice would also vary by institution. While the WUWC developed these skills and expertise in-house and did not rely on staff outside of the WUWC, other institutions may be able to partner with IT departments, instructional design programs, and graphic design programs (to name a few) within their university.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Any faculty and student can use the WUWC’s open-access modules.

If an institution wanted to develop their own modules, the cost to implement this effective practice would vary greatly by institution depending on institutional technology, resources, and expertise that an educator could use to create their own modules (as explained above). Below, however, are estimated costs for the technology the WUWC used for the modules.

--Captivate 5 and upgrades to Captivate 9: $5,000
--Yearly Connect training seat licenses: $2,250
--Yearly Connect event seat licenses: $225

References, supporting documents: 

The WUWC's complete data for the self-paced, interactive modules referenced in this application can be found online or attached as an Excel document.

1. Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2015employerstudents...
2. Walden University Writing Center. (2015). Impact of the Writing Center [Internal presentation].
3. Walden University Writing Center. (2015). Impact of the Writing Center [Internal presentation].
4. Walden University. (2015). 2015 fall course evaluation report [Internal documentation].
5. Walden University. (2015). 2015 fall course evaluation report [Internal documentation].
6. Pajares, F. (2003). Self-efficacy beliefs, motivation, and achievement in writing: A review of the literature. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 19, 139-158. doi:10.1080/10573560390143085

Other Comments: 

Special thanks are given to the many Walden University Writing Center staff who contributed to the development of the modules.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Beth Nastachowski
Email this contact: 
beth.nastachowski@waldenu.edu