June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
24.205.1 - 24.205.12
Assessing Student Writing Competencies in Environmental Engineering CoursesStudents enrolled in the environmental engineering program at the University of X are requiredto complete a large number of diverse writing assignments. They complete ten laboratorycourses, many of which require weekly lab reports. Senior-level courses are focused on design,and students prepare many technical design reports in these courses. Moreover, given theundergraduate-only nature of the university, all student writing is assessed by faculty members.The traditional model for grading student writing is to mark up the writing with corrections andsuggestions for improvements and assign a grade between 0 and 100.Despite the extensive practice students receive and despite the frequent, thorough, and well-intentioned critical feedback they obtain on their writing, student writing effectiveness asmeasured using the rubric for Senior Design reports is often very poor. As a result, some facultymembers have questioned the current assessment method to evaluate student writing. Thecurrent method is very time consuming; provides no motivation to students to continuouslyimprove; and simply is not working for our students. Consequently, the objective of this study isto answer the question: “how can more valuable input that improves student writing be providedin a manner that is time-efficient for faculty?” One potential solution is writing competency-based grading (WCBG).The theory behind WCBG is that rather than assigning individual grades on individual writingassignments, a grade is assigned at the end of the semester based on the number of writingcompetencies a student has achieved. In the new WCBG model, three levels of writingcompetencies are outlined. Examples of low-level competencies include “no spelling errors” and“no sentence fragments.” Upper level competencies include “thoroughness and conciseness areproperly balanced” and “care taken to choose the ‘best’ word.” The final paper will describeeach of these levels in full detail, as well as the details of assigning the final semester grade.Advantages of WCBG include: Student writing improves (i.e. a decrease in the number of poor writing assignments, which is especially noticeable as the semester progresses). Students are provided with focused feedback on ways to improve their writing. The bar is raised on student writing in a fair, transparent, and defendable way. Faculty workload is reduced due to improved writing by mid-semester. The campus Writing Center can provide more focused instruction if students seek help in individual problem areas.Disadvantages include Grading student writing is still time-consuming. Although some criteria are objective (e.g., grammar and punctuation), many upper level criteria are subjective (e.g., tone and accounting for audience), leading to variations between faculty. Variations also appear among faculty members based on biases concerning the relative importance of certain competencies First-time users of the rubric face a learning curve. Instructor writing skill, and thus the ability to evaluate student writing effectiveness, varies from instructor to instructor. Some students are discouraged upon receiving a grade of 0 (i.e. they did not even satisfy the Level 1 competencies) even after investing many hours in preparing the document.WCBG has recently been piloted four times in two different courses (a junior-level FluidMechanics course and a senior-level Hydrology course) by three different faculty members atUniversity of X. Assessment measures to be reported include instructor reflections, studentattitudes, and student performance.
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