Reimagining First-Year Writing for STEM Undergraduates as Inquiry-Based Learning in Science Studies

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Reimagining First-Year Writing for STEM Undergraduates as Inquiry-Based Learning in Science Studies

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Author :
Marisa Brandt & June Oh
Reimagining First-Year Writing for STEM Undergraduates as Inquiry-Based Learning in Science Studies

MO Contact profile image
Author :
Marisa Brandt & June Oh

How can a first-year writing course help to create 21st century STEM students with foundations for interdisciplinary inquiry? Could such as curriculum engage STEM students in knowledge production in ways that help to acculturate them as collaborative, ethical, and empathetic learners? Bringing together insights from writing pedagogy, work on critical science literacy, and science studies, this round-table is hosted by the collaborative team leading an effort to rethink the first year writing course required of all students at Lyman Briggs College, MSU's residential college for STEM students.

A major goal of the curriculum redesign is to develop science studies-inspired writing assignments that foster reflective experiential learning about the nature of science. The purpose of this approach is not only to demonstrate the value of inquiry in science studies (history, philosophy, and sociology of science) to STEM students as they pursue their careers, but to foster diverse inclusion in science by demystifying key aspects of scientific culture and its hidden curriculum for membership. Following the guidance of critical pedagogy (e.g. bell hooks), we aim to use the context of first-year writing instruction as an opportunity for critical reflection and empowerment.

The roundtable describes how the instructional team designed the first-year curriculum and adapted it to teaching online during the pandemic, and shares data on lessons learned by both the instructor team and our students. We invite participants to think with us as we continue to iteratively develop and assess the curriculum.

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Description of Poster:

Reimagining First-Year Writing for STEM Undergraduates as Inquiry-Based Learning in Science Studies  

Marisa Brandt, HPS Lyman Briggs College & June Oh, English 

Project Overview: Reimagining LB 133 

Lyman Briggs College aims to provide a high quality science education to diverse students by teaching science in social, human, and global contexts. LB 133: Science & Culture fulfills the Tier 1 writing requirement for 80-85% of LBC students. Starting in F19, we implemented a new, collaboratively developed and taught cohort model of the LB 133 curriculum in order to take advantage of opportunity to foster a community of inquiry, inclusion, and curiosity.  

First year college writing and literacy courses aim to give students skills to communicate and evaluate information in their own fields and beyond. While teaching important writing skills, LB 133 focuses on developing students’ science literacy by encouraging them to enact a subject position of a socially engaged science professional in training. LB 133 was designed based on ideas of HPS. 

History, Philosophy, and Sociology (HPS) or “science studies” is an interdisciplinary field that studies science in context, often extended to include medicine, technology, and other sites of knowledge-production. LB 133 centers inquiry into relations of science and culture. One way HPS can help students succeed in STEM is by fostering inclusion. In LB 133, this occurs through demystifying scientific culture and hidden curriculum through authentic, project-based inquiry.  

Like WRAC 110, LB 133 is organized around five writing projects. Each project entails a method of inquiry into science as a social, human practice and teaches them to write first as a form of sense-making about their data. (Column 2) Then, students develop writing projects to communicate what they have learned to non-scientific audiences.  

Research Questions:  

  1. How did their conceptions of science change?[Text Wrapping Break] 2. Did their writing improve?[Text Wrapping Break] 3. What did they see as the most important ideas and skills they would take from the course?[Text Wrapping Break] 4. Did they want more HPS at LBC?  

Data Collection:  

[Text Wrapping Break]1. Analysis of the beginning and end of course Personal Writing assessments. [Text Wrapping Break]2. End of term survey. [Text Wrapping Break]3. Answers to course reflection questions.  

Selected Results:
See Column 3. 

The new model seems successful! Students reported finding 133 surprisingly enjoyable and educational, for many reasons. Many felt motivated to write about science specifically, saw communication as valuable scientific skill. Most felt their writing improved and learned more than anticipated. Most learned and valued key HPS concepts and wanted to learn more about diversity in scientific cultures, and wanted to continue HPS education in LBC to do so. 

Column 2 - Course Structure: Science & Culture 


Science Studies Content[Text Wrapping Break]Learning Goals 

Literacy & Writing Skills Learning Goals 

Part 1 - Cultures of Science 

Personal Writing 1: Personal Statement [STEM Ed Op-ed][Text Wrapping Break]Short form writing from scientific subject position.  

Reflect on evolving identity, role, and responsibilities in scientific culture.   

Diagnostic for answering questions, supporting a claim, providing evidence, structure, and clear writing. 

Scientific Sites Portfolio[Text Wrapping Break]Collaborative investigation of how a local lab produces knowledge.   

Understand scientific practice, reasoning, and communication in its diverse social, material, and cultural contexts. Demystify labs and humanize scientists. 

Making observational field notes. Reading scientific papers.  

Peer review. Claim, evidence, reasoning. Writing analytical essays based on observation.   

Part 2 - Science in Culture 

Unpacking a Fact Poster 

Partner project assessing validity of a public scientific claim. 

Understand the mediation of science and how to evaluate scientific claims. Identify popular conceptions of science and contrast these with scientists’ practices. 

Following sources upstream. Comparing sources.  

APA citation style.  

Visual display of info on a poster. 

Perspectives Portfolio[Text Wrapping Break]Collaborative investigation of a debate concerning science in Michigan. 

Identify and analyze how diverse stakeholders are included in and/or excluded from science. Recognize value of diverse perspective. 

Find, use, and correctly cite primary and scholarly secondary sources from different stakeholder perspectives. 

Learn communicating to a broader audience in an online platform. 

Personal Writing 2: Letter + PS Revision[Text Wrapping Break]Sharing a course takeaway with someone. 

Reflect again on evolving identity, role, and responsibilities in scientific culture.   

Final assessment of answering questions, supporting a claim, providing evidence, structure, and clear writing. 

Weekly Formative Assessments 

Discussion Activities Pre-meeting writing about the readings 

Reflect on prompted aspects of science and culture 

Writing as critical inquiry. 


Preparation for discussion. 

Curiosity Colloquium responses 

200 words reflecting on weekly speaker series 

Exposure to college, campus, and academic guests—including diverse science professionals— who share their curiosity and career story.  

Writing as reflection on presentations and their personal value. 

Some presenters share research and writing skills. 

Column 3 - Results  

Results from Personal Writing 

Fall 19: There were largely six themes the op-ed assignments discussed. Majority of students chose to talk about the value of science in terms of its ubiquity, problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills, and the way it prompts technological innovation. 

Fall 21: Students largely focused on 1. the nature of science as a product of human labor research embedded with many cultural issues, and 2. science as a communication and how scientists can gain public trust (e.g., transparency, collaboration, sharing failure.)  

F19 & S20 Selected Survey Results 

 108 students responding.The full report here 

  • 92.5% reported their overall college writing skills improved somewhat or a lot. 

  • 76% reported their writing skills improved somewhat or a lot more than they expected. 

  • 89% reported planning to say in LBC. 

Selected Course Reflection Comments 

The most impactful things students report learning at end of semester. 

Science and Culture: Quotes: “how scientific knowledge is produced” “science is inherently social” “how different perspectives . . . impact science” “writing is integral to the scientific community as a method of sharing and documenting scientific research and discoveries” 

Writing: Quotes: “a thesis must be specific and debatable” “claim, evidence, and reasoning” “it takes a long time to perfect.” Frequently mentioned skills: Thesis, research skill (citation, finding articles and proper sources), argument (evidence), structure and organization skills, writing as a (often long and arduous) process, using a mentor text, confidence. 

What do you want to learn more about after this course? 

“How culture(s) and science coexist, and . . . how different cultures view science” 

Gender and minority disparities in STEM” “minority groups in science and how their cultures impact how they conduct science” “different cultures in science instead of just the United States” “how to write scientific essays”