Friday, November 12, 2010

What we know about writing in STEM

Greg Bothun, U. Oregon: (at the Reinvention Center conference)

Student writing projects give unsatisfactory results:

  • book reports, factoids
  • Reliance on authority, not experiment
  • poor organization
  • not fluid presentation.
  • students are taught to be factoid-driven.
  • no motivation for reflection (takes too much time)
  • Organizing takes time
  • students think in bullet points.
We need to change:
  • Students perceive writing as irrelevant to their goals.
  • Students perceive writing as a reporting task, not as a synthesis tool.
Techniques to change this:
  • Open-ended assignments don't work.
  • Give out-there essay topics - topics that are so vague and cosmic that they can't get the answer from Google or Wikipedia ("Did humanity lose its soul in the industrial revolution?")  But how to grade???
  • Allow creative presentation as 'writing'.  Make them write poetry about the topics!!!  Newspaper article?  Work in a group to prepare a flyer for a target audience.
  • Carrots? Republication on blogs with high readership.
Collaborative writing much better than solitary writing.
  • Collaborative lab reports.
  • Reports as consultant agency -
  • Write a flyer (wind power example from a student team; could we do this in Genetics?).
  • Group oral presentations (asking for persuasive arguments, not factoids)
  • Video.
Video editing project:

"Your 15 min video will be shown at halftime in the superbowl, to get audience to change how they make decisions."

(Oops, missed the last part because I was trying to find out why my tweets aren't showing up.)


Copyright issues for videos:  He doesn't worry about.

Slacker management?  Let the groups manage this informally.  Asking students to grade each other's contributions doesn't work (not mature enough).  Asking for a one-page summary outlining what each student contributed, and saying that grades will be individually adjusted only in extreme situations.

Or have them use Blackboard etc, then you can just look at their individual online contributions.

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