M-Write II

Writing-to-Learn in Large Courses

Many of the University of Michigan’s introductory or gateway courses have large enrollments, so writing has not been a major part of the learning experience in those classes. Yet, appropriately framed writing assignments can help students better learn the core content of these courses while also fostering critical thinking skills. Using technology that includes a peer review system and automatic text analysis, faculty members from the College of Literature, Science, & the Arts (LSA) and the College of Engineering, in conjunction with the Sweetland Writing Center, will be using M-Write II to integrate writing-to-learn pedagogies into five large introductory courses.

Project Background

The primary challenge of incorporating writing into instruction is that faculty need time to read, assess and provide feedback, which is problematic in large-enrollment classes. This practical constraint contributes to a paucity of writing in large-enrollment gateway courses, and these are the very courses where students are most likely to depart from their intended path. The overarching goal of the M-Write II project is to infuse writing into large gateway courses across the U-M campus. In support of this goal, this project will: 1) conceptualize writing as engaged learning in high-enrollment gateway courses from diverse disciplines; 2) create a community of practice to diffuse writing practices in classrooms across campus; and 3) support the practical use of writing at scale through technology.

Project Description

Building on models and practices established during the discovery phase, M-Write II is scaling up implementation of writing-to-learn pedagogies in large-enrollment gateway courses in multiple departments within LSA and the College of Engineering. To begin, six faculty members are collaborating with project leaders to develop concept-based writing prompts and rubrics, incorporating these into their five introductory courses via automated peer review and participating in a Faculty Seminar for Engaged Learning that will include 10 to 15 additional faculty and graduate students interested in implementing writing-to-learn pedagogies. These additional faculty members and graduate student instructors will, with support from seminar participants, as well as project personnel and undergraduate Sweetland Writing Fellows, subsequently implement writing-to-learn pedagogies in their large-enrollment courses.

A key element for incorporating writing-to-learn pedagogies into multiple large-enrollment courses will be a Comprehensive Writing System, which will have three components: an automated peer review system; an automated text analysis (ATA) system that will provide actionable data to faculty; and linkage with E2Coach that will give individualized feedback to students. Project personnel will join with colleagues from U-M’s Digital Innovation Greenhouse to use tools of ATA to create a system for providing M-Write II faculty with actionable data about student learning and to adapt E2Coach to provide individualized feedback on student writing and learning.

Transformative Impact

Writing-to-learn pedagogies foster engaged learning in several ways, and this is particularly true when students follow the M-Write II process of writing in response to a prompt, using a rubric to evaluate the responses of others, and revising their drafts on the basis of responses from their peers. This sequence of activities requires creativity for generating a text, social responsibility for responding effectively to the writing of others, communication skills for both producing and evaluating writing, and self-agency for offering explanations and raising questions about the concept under consideration. In addition, writing-to-learn pedagogies unite students’ emotional, behavioral and intellectual capacities in the active participation, meaningful processing and focused attention that are also hallmarks of engaged learning.

During the life of the project, it is anticipated that more than 10,000 students will participate in engaged learning using M-Write II’s writing-to-learn pedagogies. M-Write II can be sustained after the end of the funding period to become part of the learning environment at the University of Michigan because the automated peer review system will be integrated with Canvas, making it eligible to become part of the common good support provided by ITS. Both the Faculty Seminar for Engaged Learning and the training of undergraduate Writing Fellows will be institutionalized at Sweetland, and the ongoing work with Automated Text Analysis will be facilitated by the university’s Digital Innovation Greenhouse.

Project Team

Anne Ruggles Gere, Department of English/School of Education
Ginger Shultz, Department of Chemistry
Christopher Brooks, School of Information
Kevyn Collins-Thompson, School of Information
Mary Lou Dorf, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Mitchell Dudley, Department of Economics
Rachel Goldman, Department of Materials Science & Engineering
Ben Hayward, Digital Innovation Greenhouse
Steven Lonn, Digital Education & Innovation
Chris Proulx, Department of Economics
Daniel Romero, Department of Math
Larissa Sano, Sweetland Writing Center
Jadwiga Sipowska, Department of Chemistry
Kris Steinhoff, Digital Innovation Greenhouse
Chris Teplovs, Digital Innovation Greenhouse