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STEM Writing Project

Summary

A multi-disciplinary team of college English writing instructors, biology teachers, data scientists, and computational linguists working to improve students’ technical writing. By combining principles from national Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines programs with classroom research and technology support, we hope to find better ways to train and support student writers in STEM fields.

Project Activities, Goals

Using computational linguistics and statistical modeling to:

  • Understand how students develop technical writing skills.
  • Build automated infrastructure to provide early, frequent feedback to student writers.
  • Make writing assessment more uniform and transparent.

The SAWHET technology

SAWHET collects and analyzes student lab reports. Students enter their written assignments into our online web form powered by Qualtrics ®. Each section of the paper has a unique entry space (Title, Abstract, Introduction, Material and Methods, Results, Discussion, Figures and Tables, Legends and Literature Cited). While writing, the web form makes sure word requirements are met and a complete report is submitted. If students need assistance, info about how to write each section is provided on the form so students have help at their fingertips. Once a student report is submitted it gets automatically analyzed by natural language processing to check for the presence of specific requirements, such as presence of a hypothesis and whether statements are backed up by citations. SAWHET also performs an automatic readability test for each section of the report, counts the percentage of scientific terminology and checks for potential plagiarism based on similar citations of reports already stored in the database. The student’s work together with the analysis report is send to the instructor assessing the student’s work. Analytics of each report is stored in the database together with a copy of the student’s original work.

Image about SAWHET at a glance

Components of SAWHET

With our NSF funded project, we are expanding SAWHET and are evaluating to what extend student’s reports reflect scientific writing. This will provide feedback to students before an instructor grades their work. The students then will have the opportunity to revise and resubmit their work without penalty, which increases the number of times student can improve upon their work.

Recruiting Partners?

YES (Go to current listing)

Project Links

Project web site (coming soon)

NSF IUSE grant award page

Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse


Rationale

Scientific thinking and communication skills are vital for 21st century STEM careers. From research we know the most effective way for students to develop these skills is through cycles of writing drafts, receiving actionable feedback and coaching, then making further refinements until a final product emerges. Ideally, students would be writing and revising routinely, but this is too time- and labor-intensive to be practical in high-enrollment STEM courses. Also, college teachers may not know how best to make high-impact writing instruction part of their classes.

This project is testing a research-based curriculum that develops scientific reasoning skills through writing. It combines text analysis technology, teaching assistant training, and an integrated writing training program for undergraduates.  We are testing whether students can develop writing skills faster by combining reading and text annotation exercises, automated feedback using text analysis technology, and holistic feedback from their instructors. We also are evaluating graduate teaching assistants’ mastery of these training methods. Finally, we will look directly at technology use. We will be measuring how much automated feedback students use, and how that translates into progress towards writing mastery.