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Free-Writing with a TWIST: A Novel Strategy to Enhance Student Learning in Physics

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Engineering Physics and Physics Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics and Physics

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Paper Authors


Teresa L. Larkin American University

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Teresa L. Larkin is an Associate Professor of Physics Education and Director and Faculty Liaison to the Combined Plan Dual-degree Engineering Program at American University. Dr. Larkin conducts educational research and has published widely on topics related to the assessment of student learning in introductory physics and engineering courses. Noteworthy is her work with student writing as a learning and assessment tool in her introductory physics courses for non-majors. One component of her research focuses on the role that various forms of technology play in terms of student learning in physics and in engineering. She has been an active member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for over 30 years. Dr. Larkin served on the Board of Directors for ASEE from 1997-1999 as Chair of Professional Interest Council (PIC) III and as Vice President of PICs. She has received numerous national and international awards including the ASEE Fellow Award in 2016 and the Distinguished Educator and Service Award from the Physics and Engineering Physics Division in 1998. In January 2014 the Center for Teaching, Research and Learning at AU presented Dr. Larkin with the Milton and Sonia Greenberg Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award 2013. Dr. Larkin was recently honored by the International Society for Engineering Education (IGIP) at the ICL conference held in Kos Island, Greece in September 2018 with the International Engineering Educator Honoris Causa award for outstanding contributions in the field of Engineering Education.

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Writing has long been shown to be an effective strategy to enhance and motivate student learning. In an introductory physics or engineering class, it can be difficult to employ a writing-based approach. This difficulty arises in large part because these approaches are often seen as time-consuming when it comes to grading. And, these types of classes are already filled with a great deal of homework assignments that primarily focus on problem solving. These homework assignments often serve as the primary mechanism outside of exams and quizzes to assess student learning. Many of these introductory courses also include a laboratory component. The assessment of the laboratory component typically involves a written laboratory report. Because the introductory classes often have a reasonably large number of students in them, it may be challenging to think about adding a writing component to these introductory classes. The assessment of student writing can certainly be a huge drain on one’s time. This paper will focus on a very short writing-based technique used in an introductory physics class at American University during the Fall 2018 semester. This formative assessment took about 5 minutes of class time and the amount of time needed outside of class to score the free-writing assignments was extremely minimal. Following a description of the free-writing activity, two specific examples will be provided. Strategies for quick and easy assessment will also be shared. A unique twist to assessing these assignments involves a Physics Correctness Value (PCV) score. A PCV score provides students with a very simple and quick assessment of their understanding of a particular topic at a particular point in time. These scores can also help students to confront any misconceptions they might have about a given idea or topic in physics. PCV scores can be provided by an instructor, or students can use them to provide feedback to their peers. Examples of how these free-writing activities can be used to boost student understanding and potentially lead to enhanced ability to solve conceptual physics problems will be shared. Time-saving tips for assessing these assignments as well as ideas for adapting this type of writing-based approach in other physics and engineering courses will be shared.

Larkin, T. L. (2019, June), Free-Writing with a TWIST: A Novel Strategy to Enhance Student Learning in Physics Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32858

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