The SLATE-Q Team
The SLATE-Q Team

Carnegie Mellon Qatar research wins 2019 Best Paper award

QNRF-funded project results in virtual toolbox for teaching analytical writing

A research team from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q), a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university, received the Best Paper award for 2019 from the Journal of Information Systems Education (JISE). The paper arose from a multi-year research project called Scaffolding Literacy in Academic and Tertiary Environments in Qatar (SLATE-Q), which was funded by Qatar National Research Fund.

Silvia Pessoa, Maria Pia Gomez-Laich, Divakaran Liginlal, and Thomas Mitchell authored the winning submission. The paper is one of seven published articles and 20 local and international presentations to arise from the SLATE-Q project.

Beginning in 2016, SLATE-Q’s goal was to work with information systems faculty members to create clear and precise guidelines for writing assignments, and to develop materials to use in writing workshops to make expectations explicit for students. The team also worked with the students, documenting both successes and challenges, and brought these findings back to the faculty members to fine-tune subsequent writing assignments.

Pessoa said, “During the course of our project, we have developed a set of tools for faculty members: Here’s a challenge that students may face, and here are some materials that you can use to help them overcome that challenge.”

Gomez-Laich describes how SLATE-Q’s scaffolding process has helped students develop their writing skills: “In a case study, for instance, students tend to summarize the case instead of analyzing what is happening. The framework guides the student through common challenges so they can construct stronger arguments.”

The idea for SLATE-Q arose out of a previous QNRF research project, led by Pessoa, that documented the literacy development of the CMU-Q Class of 2013 over four years. Pessoa found that students can face challenges understanding what the professors are looking for in analytical and argumentative writing assignments in different disciplines. She believed that a clear, well-defined system of communicating expectations would enhance learning and writing development.

For the SLATE-Q project, Pessoa brought together a large team of applied linguists and disciplinary faculty members, including Gomez-Laich, Mitchell, and Michael Maune (now at MIT), as well as principal investigators Liginlal, Selma Limam Mansar and Susan Hagan from CMU-Q, Ryan Miller from Kent State University, Sally Humphrey from the Australian Catholic University, and Ahmar Mahboob from the University of Sydney. In 2015, the project received a grant in Cycle 8 of QNRF’s National Priorities Research Program. On the second year of the project, the team also worked with CMU-Q’s Cecile le Roux to scaffold writing in her organizational behavior course.

Over the three-year project, the team worked with 11 faculty members to design scaffolding materials that would clearly outline writing expectations. They analyzed student writing post-intervention, reflected on theoutcomes, and applied what they learned in following semesters.

As the SLATE-Q project reached its conclusion in 2019, the team decided to make their findings publicly available.

“We don’t want SLATE-Q to be just a research project,” said Pessoa, associate professor of English at CMU-Q and the lead principal investigator of the project. “We want to help faculty members change the way they guide students to develop their writing skills.”

They recruited students to build a website of tools and materials based on the project’s outcomes and on their work on history writing with CMU-Q history professors Benjamin Reilly and Aaron Jacobson (formerly at CMU-Q). While the website includes materials specific to CMU-Q courses, Mitchell notes they also created a section for a wider audience: “We distilled all we learned throughout the entire project into the four or five biggest challenges we saw students facing, and the materials we created to address them.”

Creating the website was itself an educational experience. The students who built the original web framework—Muhammad Taimur Rizwan, Rija Yoosufani, and Masooma Zehra—did so as part of their information systems junior project course.

Liginlal taught the project course and guided the students as they built the information portal. “During the course, the students met with the SLATE-Q team to understand their needs, and then they organized the content and provided the ability for researchers and professors to access relevant materials.”

Rizwan stayed on after the course finished to further develop the site. The team launched the website earlier this year.

Although the QNRF-funded research has drawn to a close, the team is planning to continue their work. The next logical step is to further develop this work into a book-length manuscript on teaching analytical and argumentative writing across the curriculum,” said Pessoa.

SLATE-Q’s materials, process and research outcomes are available at slateq3.wpengine.com. The journal article that was named Best Paper of 2019 is titled “Scaffolding case analysis writing: A collaboration between information systems and writing faculty,” and is available at JISE.org.

Pessoa, Mitchell, Gomez-Laich, Liginlal and le Roux were also finalists for CMU’s 2019-2020 Teaching Innovation Award.

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