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Dr. A. Wade Boykin

Dr. Marguerite Neita
November 2006

Dr. Marguerite Neita is an Associate Professor, Chairman, and Program Director in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Science, so, naturally, she teaches science. However, if you happened to read her Clinical Immunology syllabus, you would realize that she teaches writing as well. Since joining Howard’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Program in 1996, she has tirelessly labored to fulfill its twin goals: to develop students’ professional writing skills (“learning to write”) and to improve their reading, listening, observing, understanding, and critical thinking (“writing to learn”). In fact, Dr. Neita currently serves on Howard’s WAC Committee, an interdisciplinary committee that promotes writing in all disciplines.

After completing the WAC summer seminar, revising her syllabus, and submitting it to the WAC Committee, Dr. Neita began teaching Clinical Immunology as a WAC-approved course that fulfilled the technical writing requirement in the Division of Allied Health. As she notes in a paper for a health sciences symposium, her WAC course addressed a critical need. Explaining why she incorporated WAC strategies, she states, “Students need to be able to grasp the basic concepts, to become motivated to seek information on their own, and to handle problem-solving activities. Students also must learn to write well professionally and to adhere to the guidelines of format, word limit, and content for their academic discipline.” Moreover, she adds, “as future health care providers, they will also disseminate information to the public and must learn to do so in a format that is concise and easily understood.”

To teach her class these skills, Dr. Neita redesigned her immunology course so that students could engage in prewriting and rewriting. For instance, in addition to a laboratory notebook, she required students to keep a journal, where they explained class concepts, defined terms, summarized articles, created analogies, and developed product advertisements for lay audiences such as clinic patients and school children. She also helped students prepare a case report for a medical audience by requiring them to submit components of the report, one by one, for a grade. Beginning with an annotated bibliography, students wrote a review of the literature and abstract as well as introduction, results, and discussion sections. They also reviewed one another’s writing, offering feedback for revising. Then they submitted their revisions to Dr. Neita, who evaluated the quality of organization and language as well as the students’ understanding of the scientific concepts.

Despite some initial resistance, students responded positively to Dr. Neita’s WAC course. They particularly enjoyed the creative journal assignments, appreciated the case report activities (especially the peer review), and felt that the course had strengthened their writing skills. Moreover, Dr. Neita observed that the case reports were “excellent” and revealed how much the students’ writing had improved.

A few years ago, Dr. Neita took her WAC course online. Since then, she has harnessed the Blackboard Discussion Board to stimulate collaborative thinking and writing. Sometimes students discuss topics such as plagiarism to prepare for the term paper assignment. At other times, they explore topics such as vaccination, contributing up-to-date information from their own web searches. But whether they are writing about composition or science, they are “learning to write” and “writing to learn.”

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