Collaborative Research: Writing Assignment Tutor Training in STEM, an Interdisciplinary Approach to Enhance Student Writing in STEM Fields

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project aims to serve the national interest by improving undergraduate engineering students' ability to communicate effectively through writing. Undergraduate engineering students need more help to develop high-quality writing skills. However, addressing this need is challenging due to limited time in engineering curricula and the limited emphasis engineering faculty members place on writing. In addition, many engineering students devalue writing skills and underestimate the amount of writing needed to be successful in engineering careers. This project intends to improve engineering student writing in their specific disciplines through distribution and testing of a previously developed process for training peer STEM writing tutors. This process involves a partnership between the supervisor of writing center tutors and the STEM instructor. Together, they design a one-hour training experience during which writing tutors learn about the STEM assignment content, vocabulary, and expectations. With this knowledge, the tutors can better support students during tutoring sessions to improve their specific writing assignment. This project will undertake a multi-institutional study to identify the elements of the tutor training process that have the most impact and the extent to which the process can be used to increase collaboration between engineering instructors and campus writing centers. It is expected that the training will lead to improvements in both tutoring effectiveness and student attitudes toward writing, ultimately supporting improvements in the writing skills of undergraduate engineering students.

This project includes a collaboration between Penn State Behrend, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, Indiana University Purdue University Columbus, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, a minority-serving institution. Evaluation of the Writing Assignment Tutor Training process on these campuses will include examination of impacts on students, peer tutors, engineering instructors, writing centers, and writing tutor supervisors. Data collection methods will include pre- and post-training surveys, interviews, and focus groups. In addition, student writing samples from pre-and post-tutoring will be investigated. The investigators will analyze these data and use the results to guide development of a replicable, sustainable model for future expansion of the Writing Assignment Tutor Training approach to other institutions and STEM fields. This approach may serve as a model for other institutions to capitalize on existing infrastructure and resources, such as writing centers and peer tutors, to achieve large-scale improvements to undergraduate STEM writing while increasing collaboration between STEM and other disciplines. The NSF IUSE: EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/209/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $127,246.00


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