Asee peer logo

Writing And Physics: A Powerful Linkage In General Education

Download Paper |


2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

A Potpourri of Innovations in Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1328.1 - 7.1328.13



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Patrick Joyner

author page

Teresa Larkin

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Main Menu

Session 3280

Writing and Physics: A Powerful Linkage in General Education Teresa Larkin-Hein & P. Kelly Joyner American University

Abstract — During the Fall 2000 and Fall 2001 semesters, a joint study was undertaken between the Physics and Literature Departments at American University. The study involved the linking of two introductory general education Liberal Arts courses: an introductory physics class for non- majors and an introductory college writing class. One goal of the study was to provide more content-specific writing assignments within the college writing class by linking them to material being covered in the physics class. The writing assignments given in both classes formed the basis of the data collected during the study. The underlying questions behind the study involved the assessment of student learning in physics as well as in college writing. The primary research questions were: (1) Could this course linkage serve to enhance the motivation of Liberal Arts students to think more deeply and critically about the physics-specific content they were writing about in each class? (2) If so, could this enhanced motivation be linked to increased student understanding? In this paper, highlights of the curricula developed for the linked classes will be provided along with results of the assessment of student learning. This study should have broad- based applications for other educators within the domains of SMET education, particularly those interested in courses designed for Liberal Arts majors

I. Introduction

The primary purpose of teaching is to facilitate student learning. However, many traditional teaching methods have clearly been shown to encourage passive rather than active learning [1], and passive learning hinders comprehension and long-term retention of important concepts. Students in traditional classrooms acquire most of their knowledge through classroom lectures and textbook reading, but good teaching involves a great deal more than simply pouring information into their heads. Students do not enter the classroom with a tabula rasa. They bring their own world views which have been developed and formed over their lifetimes [2]. Students' world views often differ greatly from that of scientists and engineers. Often, due in large part to these differences, students emerge from our classes with serious misconceptions [3] -[ 7].

In recent years, a number of writing techniques have evolved that make use of various writing-to-learn strategies within the domains of engineering, mathematics, and the sciences [8] - [15]. The use of writing in introductory physics classes for non-majors may help students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition, writing can help them identify and confront their misconceptions about a specific topic in physics.

Science classes in particular are seen by many students as threatening and intimidating. Tobias [16] has been critical of introductory college science courses, arguing that typical classrooms are "competitive, selective, intimidating, and designed to winnow out all but the 'top tier' … there is little attempt to create a sense of 'community' among average students of science" (p. 9). Hence,

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

Main Menu

Joyner, P., & Larkin, T. (2002, June), Writing And Physics: A Powerful Linkage In General Education Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10876

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2002 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015