Buried Alive! Escaping Higher Ed’s Writing Crisis

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

It’s no secret that student writing is a challenge faced across all educational sectors. In this session, participants will race together in an Escape Room-style challenge to avoid being buried alive under a crushing mound of student essays and to learn about a relatively simple solution every institution must consider.


Dr. Sloan has worked in educational settings throughout her entire career, with her experience spanning both secondary and higher education. Dr. Sloan worked as a Director of Grant Management and Student Support programs for four years at a charter school district for at-risk high school students. This experience allowed her to learn about all of the alternatives to traditional education that exist, making her passionate about finding ways to help reach anyone who desires further education. In 2007, Dr. Sloan entered the world of online higher education, as a literature and writing instructor. By 2009, she had moved fully into online higher education, teaching classes and taking on faculty management positions first at Grand Canyon University, Argosy University, and now Colorado Technical University first as a lead faculty, program chair, and now a Director of Academic Operations with oversight over the university's instructional initiatives and faculty training. Dr. Sloan has extensive experience working with curriculum and faculty management. Dr. Sloan graduated with her bachelor’s degree as a University Scholar from Baylor University. She also holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Finally, Dr. Sloan completed her EdD in Higher and Postsecondary Education at Argosy University Online. She has presented at a variety of conferences including the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference, ELI Annual Meeting, and OLC Innovate and has been published by Educause Review and the Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice.

Extended Abstract

Chances are, if you have attended any conference relating to higher education in the past 5-10 years, you have heard (or even led!) discussions about the massive problem institutions face in regards to student writing.  This problem affects just about every area of the institution and is particularly pervasive across online education.

The issues surrounding student writing are far from simple; they start before students ever begin college and continue to remain problematic long after they leave.  For many institutions, it’s a crushing weight they must figure out how to escape if they want to be able to retain students and adequately prepare them for life beyond school.

To effectively combat the challenges students face with writing, institutions must be willing to break out of old methodologies and to adopt new and innovative approaches to teaching writing and to using writing as an assessment tool. Come to this session to learn more about how this problem can be best addressed, not through the investment of expensive tutoring services or the latest technology, but through a mindset adjustment and a willingness to make essential changes to our instruction and curriculum.

The student essay is a long-esteemed assessment tool used across all levels of education and within almost all, if not all, fields of study.  Yet, students from all backgrounds struggle with this assessment tool, and with as many ways as we have tried to solve this issue, the problems continue to worsen with every passing year.

It is so easy to point the blame to a bevy of potential causes.  It’s the fault of the secondary system!  Wait, actually the elementary schools are to blame!  Well, of course it’s the government and their chronic underfunding of education.  Cell phones must own up to their share of the blame.  And, it’s the students themselves without any shadow of a doubt—they revel in a disintegration of our language and gleefully contribute to its demise.  But, just what if the real problem lies not with any of these external factors but our internal refusal to acknowledge how written communication truly functions in today’s global world and an unwillingness to adapt to a shifting landscape of how, when, and why our students use written communication?

During this session, we will explore these questions using innovative strategies and gamification.  Instead of attending just another conference session, participants will have the opportunity to participate in an escape room.  They must work together to break free before they are crushed under an ever-growing pile of badly written student essays.

Participants will be forced to dismantle old, long-revered writing traditions and consider today’s technology and the writing needs engendered from this ever-shifting, quickly evolving communication landscape.  They will be confronted with the kinds of writing challenges faced across workforces everywhere and will grapple with how to equip students to overcome those challenges.

As with any complicated, knotty problem, no one group can solve this issue alone.  Participants will be placed into three teams: students, faculty, and administrators.  Each group will consider the problem from their unique angle and have their own puzzles to solve, but ultimately, we must all come together to discover the key to escaping this long-standing conundrum.

The session will be fun, action-packed, and will ask participants to think about the writing challenges we face from perhaps new and previously unconsidered angles.  While participants will solve the challenge to escape the room, they will also gain something far more valuable and much longer-lasting with several takeaways that can be brought back to their own institutions for how to begin to successfully equip students with the writing skills they will need to be successful in college and in the workplace.

Those familiar with escape rooms know that clues can be found anywhere and everywhere, including right here in this extended abstract and from the moment you step into the room.  Be ready and be vigilant—you just may be the person who finds the key to solving today’s writing crisis!