What do applied liberal arts, biology, chemistry, climate studies, economics, earth and environmental sciences, material science engineering, mechanical engineering, physics, and statistics have in common? Each department or program offers one or more M-Write courses. This means that over 15,000 students have had the opportunity to deepen their learning in these courses by writing about key concepts introduced in them. Preliminary research shows that students who participate in M-Write demonstrate more substantive learning than those who do not. In addition, writing about key concepts helps to reveal the misconceptions that students may have about them. For example, one study showed that in an introductory biology course student writing in response to an M-Write prompt revealed students’ misconceptions about protein structures. Approximately one-third of students wrote that quarternary structures are comprised of multiple proteins rather than multiple polypeptide subunits. This misconception went beyond what had previously been reported in the literature and, thereby, contributes to ways of improving student learning.
The twelve faculty who participate in M-Write say they appreciate learning more about students’ understanding (or lack of it) regarding course content because it enables them to change their pedagogy. For example, when students’ written responses to an M-Write prompt revealed that they were confused about the concept of comparative advantage in an economics course, the instructor presented the information in a different way and the next semester students demonstrated less confusion. Another aspect of M-Write that faculty appreciate is the opportunity to work with Writing Fellows. These Fellows are nominated by faculty and trained in a Sweetland course to understand prompts, manage the automated peer review tool, convey understandings about peer review and revision, and to monitor the writing students produce in response to prompts. The approximately 200 Fellows who have participated in M-Write claim that they learn the subject matter more fully, develop confidence as writers, and feel more engaged in learning as a result of their role. Faculty report that Writing Fellows enhance their experience of teaching large classes. Fellows help faculty feel more connected to their students at the same time that they offer useful insights into the ways students understand course material.
Looking ahead, M-Write is positioned to play a key role in the University’s Foundational Course Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to enhance the learning experience of students in all of the large enrollment courses that serve as gateways to a wide variety of disciplines. With its capacity to engage students in deeper conceptual learning, M-Write will offer an important contribution to the FCI.