Supporting writing instruction in STEM courses


Supporting writing instruction in STEM courses

Best practices for assignment and class activity design

July 29, 2022

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Megan Brown

Director of Writing, Drake University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

My research project is titled “Supporting writing instruction in STEM courses: Best practices for assignment and class activity design.” I decided to pursue this research because I will be serving as Drake University’s Director of Writing starting this July, and my role entails training and managing peer tutors for our writing workshop as well as collaborating with faculty across campus to develop effective and relevant writing assignments and classroom activities.

The project is relevant to my home institution because our most recent assessment of general education courses with the “written communication” outcome indicated some challenges persisting up to the end of students’ senior year, including the ability to acknowledge opposing viewpoints in writing and the ability to write clearly within a specific academic discipline. The project is also important within higher education in general, because we all want to foster student success and improve post-graduation outcomes (employability, pursuit of graduate degrees).

Because I will be new to the director of writing position, I have an opportunity to build on my predecessor’s successes, and to reimagine some of our training and programming. I plan to use my research findings to guide my decision-making. I will also need to work within certain existing institutional barriers to change; because our general education curriculum is not likely to be revised any time soon with regard to the number or type of required writing courses, I would like to work within existing major programs to help faculty members improve student learning outcomes.

My predecessor began a successful faculty writing project in which faculty members in various disciplines would be compensated for time spent together discussing, designing, and writing assignment prompts and approaches to classroom activities, such as student peer review.

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I will continue this practice, but will redesign it to focus on what faculty members in different disciplines have in common (versus the differences between writing conventions within the different disciplines). I will first ask faculty participants to reflect on their priorities in helping students to improve writing skills, and then use the results of those reflections to guide what I am calling a “mindful design” approach to teaching writing in the disciplines. Some aspects of mindful design include assignment prompts that clearly define faculty priorities, assessment practices that align with those priorities, and multiple, varied opportunities for students to practice what they are learning in a low-pressure environment. My work with faculty will also guide my approach to training new peer tutors each year.

This plan for supporting writing instruction in the STEM courses will not require budgetary resources in addition to those already in place for the director of writing position. As for research resources for this project, I unfortunately missed most of the EAB meetings this semester due to a conflict with my teaching schedule, so I used a lot of resources already available to me. (My project was quite a bit different from others I learned about during the presentations as well.) Thank you for the opportunity!

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Megan Brown and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in spring 2022

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