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Writing in STEM: A Synthesis of Two Adaptive Approaches

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Engineering Physics Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & 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 Faculty Liaison to the Pre-engineering Program at American University. She received her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with emphasis in Physics and Science Education from Kansas State University. Dr. Larkin is involved with Physics Education Research (PER) 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. She has been an active member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for over 25 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. Dr. Larkin has received numerous national and international awards including the ASEE Distinguished Educator and Service Award from the Physics and Engineering Physics Division in 1998. Dr. Larkin received the Outstanding Teaching in the General Education Award from AU in 2000. In 2000 – 2001 she served as a National Science Foundation ASEE Visiting Scholar. Dr. Larkin is the author of a book chapter published in 2010 entitled “Women’s Leadership in Engineering” in K. O’Connor (Ed.) Gender and Women’s Leadership: A Reference Handbook (Vol. 2, pp. 689 – 699). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. In 2013 her paper entitled “Breaking with Tradition: Using the Conference Paper as a Case for Alternative Assessment in Physics” received an award for best paper in a special session entitled Talking about Teaching (TaT’13), at the 42nd International Conference on Engineering Pedagogy (IGIP) held in Kazan, Russia. 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 can be reached at

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Providing students with opportunities to improve their written and oral communication abilities can be an effective way to elicit student learning. ABET Criterion 3 speaks directly to the importance of this skillset through Student Outcome g which states “an ability to communicate effectively (3g1 orally, 3g2, written) .” 1 There are a number of ways to include this skillset within the assessment component of a typical STEM classroom. With this ABET student learning outcome as a backdrop, this paper will provide a synthesis of two writing-based assessment strategies that will draw upon specific examples utilized in a collection of introductory physics classes. These strategies include free-writing activities and a formal conference research paper activity. The conference paper activity includes an oral presentation component as well; thus, these examples address both components of Criterion 3g. Several studies exist which point to the use of writing-based assessments both in physics as well as in the broader STEM communities. These studies provide a sound research base that suggests that writing-based strategies can not only improve students’ written communication skills but they can simultaneously serve as useful learning tools. The aims of this paper are twofold. First, an overview of how these two writing-based approaches might be embedded within the curriculum as pedagogical tools to help assess just what and how students are learning will be presented. Second, some suggestions as to how the use of these approaches can be used to provide one measure of student ability to communicate effectively as per Criterion 3g. Because writing activities tend to demand considerable grading time for instructors, many of us tend to shy away from assigning too many of them. This is particularly true for faculty in small departments who don’t have the luxury of having unlimited hours for grading assistants. Hence, a discussion of time-saving grading and assessment methods will also be shared.

Larkin, T. L. (2016, June), Writing in STEM: A Synthesis of Two Adaptive Approaches Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27058

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