Board 317: Improving Undergraduate STEM Writing: A Collaboration Between Instructors and Writing Center Directors to Improve Peer-Writing Tutor Feedback

Robert Weissbach, Ruth Camille Pflueger, Immanuel Edinbarough, Corinne C. Renguette, Brandon Sorge, Gamini P. Mendis, Matthew Rothrock, Annwesa Dasgupta, Johanna Bodenhamer

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Undergraduate writing skills in STEM fields, especially engineering, need improvement. Yet students in engineering fields often do not value them and underestimate the amount of writing they will do in their careers. University writing centers can be a helpful resource, but the peer writing tutors that often staff them need to be prepared for the differences in writing between humanities and STEM fields. The Writing Assignment Tutor Training in STEM (WATTS) model was designed to improve tutor confidence and student writing. In this innovative training, the writing center supervisor and STEM instructor collaboratively create a one-hour training for tutors about the assignment content, technical terminology, genre conventions, and instructor expectations. A research study on this multidisciplinary collaborative project is being conducted to determine the impact of WATTS on students, tutors, and faculty and to identify its mitigating and moderating effects, assessing the elements of the model that have the most impact. Data from all WATTS stakeholders-students, tutors, faculty and writing center staff-have been collected. Both quantitative and qualitative instruments were used, including pre- and post-surveys, interviews and focus groups. WATTS' effects on student writing have been assessed by the comparison of pre- and post-tutoring reports using a normed rubric and have demonstrated statistically significantly improvement in student writing. The results are being used to develop a replicable, sustainable model for dissemination to other institutions and application within other STEM fields. Increasing collaboration between engineering instructors and writing centers is a desirable outcome and essential for WATTS dissemination to a broad audience. NSF funding of this project has enabled the investigators to expand WATTS to additional engineering courses, test key factors with more instructors, and refine the process. It is anticipated that the study will contribute valuable knowledge to facilitate the improvement of student writing in STEM fields. As the cost of higher education increases, institutions are pressured to graduate students in four years while engineering curricula are becoming more complex. WATTS presents an economical, effective method to improve student writing in the discipline. Several factors indicate that it has the potential for broad dissemination and impact and will provide a foundation for a sustainable model for future work as instructors become trainers for their colleagues, allowing additional ongoing expansion and implementation. WATTS serves as a model for institutions (large or small) to capitalize on existing infrastructure and resources to achieve large-scale improvements to undergraduate STEM writing while increasing interdisciplinary collaboration and institutional support.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 25 2023
Event2023 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - The Harbor of Engineering: Education for 130 Years, ASEE 2023 - Baltimore, United States
Duration: Jun 25 2023Jun 28 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering

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