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Writing to Learn in Introductory Materials Science

Prof Rachel Goldman | University of Michigan

Writing to Learn in Introductory Materials Science

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M-Write is a campus-wide project which aims to transform teaching and learning in gateway courses through enhanced student engagement and transformative learning. In Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), we are implementing Writing to Learn (WTL) assignments and peer review in courses spanning from introductory undergraduate to advanced graduate levels. The WTL assignments enable students to apply content knowledge to "real-world" situations via writing, which promotes deeper thinking and compels students to explain concepts in their own words. The subsequent peer review and revision processes provide additional learning opportunities as the students give and receive feedback on content and critically self-assess their own work. In this project, we are quantifying the influence of WTL assignments on student understanding of key concepts in introductory MSE courses. The project involves evaluated the effectiveness of the WTL assignments and their impact on student learning. Both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies are utilized, including pre/post assessment surveys and interviews, as well as analysis of writing products. In this presentation, we will discuss our use of Writing to Learn in Introductory MSE. For example, we have used WTL to assist student learning of polymer properties, with a prompt that focuses on polymer recycling and its impact on mechanical properties. Our research suggests that the polymer recycling WTL assignment was effective in promoting understanding of stress-strain behavior of polymers, but that further support is needed to help students connect polymer microscopic properties to macroscopic behavior [1]. The effectiveness of WTL assignments associated with other key concepts including the atomic packing in crystals, ductile vs. brittle failure, interpretation of phase diagrams, and corrosion as it relates to the Flint water crisis will also be discussed.