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Office of University Writing

Office of The Provost

To Write or Not to Write: Featuring Stan Reeves’ Assignment

[youtube id=”1Bic27TRNAo” align=”left”] Auburn Professor Stan Reeves of Electrical Engineering created an engaging writing assignment for his students that allows them learn the material they missed on an exam by creating a tutorial explanation for other students.

Most disciplinary faculty need to be certain that students understand the content information their course is meant to teach and they often worry that introducing a writing assignment will distract from the attention they need to give to content knowledge. What we admire about Dr. Reeves’ assignment is that he is using writing to help students learn what they didn’t get right on an exam so that the activity of writing actually gives students the opportunity to relearn the content they are meant to master. By structuring the assignment as a tutorial for other students, Dr. Reeves gives students a real audience for the writing. And, by having students post their tutorial to the discussion board in Canvas and requiring that they respond to other students’ tutorial posts, Dr. Reeves engages students in peer review that provides plenty of feedback without requiring additional time from him. These features – real audience, feedback, blending content and writing – are consistent with the elements that have been shown to promote engaged learning.

There are many ways to incorporate writing that helps students learn content, what is sometimes called “writing to learn.” An assignment like the one Dr. Reeves developed has a clear objective and students are motivated by the need to improve their understanding of the content material. In other words, as we explained in an earlier post it provides an additional learning experience and makes good use of the time students will spend doing the work. Dr. Reeves has structured the assignment to make it clear to students that spending time on the writing assignment is going to benefit them, but he’s also exposing students to a strategy they can use as they prepare for future tests. As an added benefit, when students explain how to solve the problem in a written tutorial, they are using higher order thinking skills.

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