Flipping the Writing Intensive Course

Faculty Focus: Cynthia Reeser, College of Human Environmental Sciences

In 2011, six large enrollment courses were selected to participate in Mizzou’s course redesign initiative. The courses are Biology 1010, Human Development and Family Studies 2400, Journalism 2150, Math 1300, Nursing 2000, and Statistics 1200.

A major difference between HDFS 2400 and the other five courses tapped for course redesign is its writing intensive (WI) designation. In WI courses, assignments are designed both to promote the learning of course content and to enhance students’ critical thinking skills through writing. Although more educational technology tools are now available, effective automation of the grading and critiquing of written assignments remains elusive. The primary question confronting the redesign of HDFS 2400 was how to use technology effectively in a course that requires significant human interface.

Critiquing students’ written output is an essential component of helping them learn. In an example of the scaffolding technique, the novice does the work while the more proficient individual lends encouragement and constructive advice. Without this critical piece, skills plateau at a lower level than what might have been possible otherwise.

To support this technique, the course redesign considered educational technology that would increase lecture enrollment without creating big, ineffective labs. Before the project, 320 students enrolled in the Monday/Wednesday lecture (Section 1) and one of 29 weekly lab sessions. Capped at 11 students, these labs were taught by HDFS Graduate Teaching Assistants who combined content and writing instruction. Only one lab time was available to the 45 students enrolled in the Tuesday/Thursday lecture (Section 2). So while the lecture was smaller, the lab was excessively large. An advanced doctoral student taught Section 2 with the aid of a more junior graduate student for the lab session.

Aside from the use of PowerPoint for presentations and Blackboard for grade management, minimal educational technology was used in both sections. The CPS student response system that was used only in Section 1 lectures was both a help and a hindrance due to reliability and record keeping issues.

The Campus Writing Program tailors an afternoon workshop specifically for the teaching assistants in the HDFS 2400 courses.

After redesign, things look appreciably different. As of Fall 2012, the smaller lecture section will be eliminated in favor of two large hybrid sections capped at 218 and the existing 29 weekly labs. Starting this semester, students registered for either the Monday or Wednesday face-to-face lecture with online delivery of the second lecture through Tegrity. Face-to-face lectures are supplemented with critical thinking questions using the newly adopted i>clicker student response system. Lectures presented through Tegrity are also supplemented with online quizzes covering the material just viewed. These quizzes as well as in-class videos are part of the textbook publisher’s online courseware. All four tools have been well received by students.

To preserve a quality human interface, maximum enrollment was determined by how many students we could effectively teach in labs and not by how many students we could serve through technology. This semester, enrollment was increased to 15 students per lab in Section 1 with TAs teaching a maximum of 2 labs, i.e., a 30:1 student-to-teacher ratio. A variety of techniques were tried to preserve quality and consistency across labs while keeping TA time commitment in mind. Thanks to feedback from students and a TA focus group, course redesign is taking its final shape.

Most Useful Techniques

  • Online paper submission with SafeAssign. SafeAssign, while not perfect, is a powerful plagiarism-checking tool. Students include the applicable grading rubrics in their WI assignments and then upload the file to Blackboard using SafeAssign. TAs download the assignment and add comments with the Track Changes tool in Microsoft Word. They apply grades to the attached rubrics and re-upload the file to Blackboard for students to access. This procedure is equally effective when the WI assignment is a revision. The SafeAssign report reveals how much revision actually took place. The textbook is also submitted to SafeAssign to save time confirming plagiarism from the book.
  • Grade norming is achieved by allowing the TAs to comparatively evaluate and discuss sample papers in a discussion board. The Campus Writing Program and Writing Intensive Tutorial Service (WITS) personnel also have access to the discussion board for comments and review.
  • Six recorded mini-lectures, called “Tiger Tips,” are delivered in Tegrity and focus on basic writing skills (e.g., sentence construction, paragraph organization). To motivate students to improve these lower order skills, module content is now used as discussion and quiz material in labs. Incorporating student peer reviews of common writing errors addressed by Tiger Tips have been particularly effective.