Use of Web-Based Student Extension Publications to Improve Undergraduate Student Writing Skills
- P. P. Motavalli *a,
- M. D. Pattonb and
- R. J. Milesa
Increased opportunities for undergraduate students in agricultural and natural resource disciplines to write for diverse audiences besides their instructor may increase motivation to write and improve student writing skills. The objectives of this teaching research were to determine and compare the initial writing experience of students enrolled in introductory and more advanced level soil science courses, develop a writing assignment that uses an agricultural extension style to improve student writing skills and consideration of their target audience, create a method using web-based technology to facilitate posting, reading, and student evaluation of the written materials, and evaluate the success of the approach using student evaluations of the assignment and the course from both the introductory and advanced students. Initial surveys of students in an introductory soils course and a more advanced soil fertility course at the University of Missouri in Columbia (UMC) during 2005 and 2006 indicated that undergraduate students have limited science writing experience as beginning students and they develop greater awareness of the need for more science writing experience as they progress in their undergraduate education. In addition, most of the undergraduate students surveyed in this research had limited experience writing a publication for an audience other than their instructor. The students recognized publication for different audiences as an effective tool to make them write more carefully and clearly and also as a way to provide them with more self esteem as science writers. A writing assignment was developed for students in the UMC soil fertility course in 2005 and 2006 to prepare short extension documents regarding the properties and management of essential plant nutrient elements with the students in the introductory soils course being their target audience. These texts were organized into a secure website using WebCT, a web-based course management software. This website allowed the introductory students to read each text and then provide their evaluations by responding to a short six question survey using the online quizzes and survey tool in WebCT. The ratings and comments of the introductory students were then returned to the original student authors of each text to provide them with feedback regarding the effectiveness of their writing. Some difficulties in coordination of the assignments between the two courses caused an undesirable delay between the completion of the student publication and when the feedback of the student audience was returned, which may have reduced the effectiveness of the assignment in raising awareness of writing for an audience. Student evaluations of the impact of this writing assignment and the subsequent evaluation exercise indicated some success in improving students’ ability to evaluate scientific writing, but their exposure to this publication apparently did not stimulate increased interest in soil science or in additional interchange with advanced students through formal written communication. Further use of formal and informal written communication through web-based tools, such as bulletin boards and chat rooms, and other means of written communication that cross institutional, disciplinary, and geographical boundaries may enhance student learning, improve written communication skills, and enlarge and diversify the audiences to which students communicate and receive feedback.Please view the pdf by using the Full Text (PDF) link under 'View' to the left.
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