Research Matters

Researchers from Different Disciplines Work Together to Develop Student Literacy

Researchers from Different Disciplines Work Together to Develop Student Literacy

The research team brought together applied linguistics and Information Systems Faculty

Research suggests that students may find it hard to complete their studies in a second language Therefore, students with low proficiency in the target language at higher education institutions struggle with understanding the expectations of the faculty and working on assignments related to technical and academic writing. This trend is specially observed in students at international branch campuses.

To explore this further and provide a viable solution, a research team from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q) led by Silvia Pessoa and composed of Maria Pia Gomez-Laich, Divakaran Liginlal, and Thomas Mitchell, conducted a multi-year research project titled, “SLATE-Q: Scaffolding Literacy in Academic and Tertiary Environments: The Case of Communication in Information Systems (NPRP8-1815-5-293),” funded by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) under its flagship National Priorities Research Program. Apart from the award-winning paper, the Slate-Q project also produced six other published articles and 20 local and international presentations.

The underlying aim of the project was to improve the quality of student technical and professional communication at the post-secondary level through a literacy intervention study by helping students who face challenges in understanding what their professors are looking for in analytical and argumentative writing assignments. In particular, the researchers focused on the teaching and learning of communication skills in the field of information systems and conducted a longitudinal study. The researchers worked along faculty members from the information studies department to develop clear and precise guidelines for writing assignments, and developed course content that is helpful for making the expectations explicit for students. The team then analyzed writing assignments submitted by students to understand challenges they face in disciplinary writing and shared their analysis with the faculty so they can further refine the guidelines for subsequent applications.

Moreover, the researchers designed specialized teacher training and development workshops to generate more effective instruction practices and help faculty to enhance the quality of student communication skills. Commenting on this process, Dr. Pessoa said: “Our analysis of student writing and interviews/surveys with faculty and students post-intervention is ongoing and points to significant student writing development and the faculty’s enhanced understanding of disciplinary writing expectations and writing pedagogy. As reported in our 2019 Journal of Information Systems Education article, both students and faculty have found the interdisciplinary collaboration and writing workshops very beneficial.”

After working for three years with 11 faculty members and students at CMU-Q, the research team was successfully able to develop SLATE-Q, a system with collaboratively designed scaffolding materials to make writing expectations explicit and enhance student writing development. The outcomes of this project will contribute directly to enhancing post-secondary learning in Qatar by engaging university professors to develop their instruction and communication skills, which will be reflected in the communication and comprehension skills of their students. These skills are of vital importance for graduates of Qatar’s post-secondary institutions to be an effective force in building Qatar’s knowledge-based society and meeting labor market needs in Qatar, and internationally.

To share their research findings, the research team has created a website that features the teaching resources developed by the SLATE-Q team with the CMU community and other scholars and teachers internationally. The website can be accessed at

Moreover, the team also won the Best Paper Award for 2019 from the Journal of Information Systems Education (JISE) for their paper titled, ‘Scaffolding case analysis writing: A collaboration between Information Systems and Writing Faculty.” The paper presents a model of collaboration between English and disciplinary faculty that can be useful in meeting the needs of an increasing number of linguistically and culturally diverse students in higher education and positively impacting the teacher development and student writing outcomes.

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