By Dan Smith and Jessica Just, Food Science and Technology
Several years ago the Food Science and Technology Department confronted a crisis in the delivery of our writing intensive course (WIC). For years we had been able to offer just one WIC per year, with a typical enrollment of about 30 students. However, following a doubling of undergraduate enrollment in the major in the three preceding years, by 2014 the enrollment in this class became far too large to effectively meet the goals of WIC, yet the department lacked teaching resources to offer it more than once per year. A new design was required to meet students’ need for a compelling writing intensive course and to minimize the burden on a faculty whose members were already stretched in their teaching assignments. The solution, arrived at through internal brainstorming and in discussion with the WIC Director, was to engage the entire faculty in teaching the WIC. We created a new course, FST385 Communicating Food and Fermentation Science, designed to deliver WIC outcomes utilizing an ever changing “hot topics” focus intended to keep the course fresh and permit the involvement of all FST teaching faculty members.
FST385 is offered twice annually, taught in a format of lecture and recitation. Enrollment in the lecture is limited to thirty* students with accompanying recitation sections capped at ten. To provide continuity, the department’s two instructors, following a common syllabus, alternate teaching the lecture. The lecture portion of the course is used to provide examples and practice with different kinds of writing common in our discipline and in the food industry. Writing Science in Plain English by Anne E. Greene is the textbook for the lecture. Greene’s book reinforces our emphasis on conveying science both clearly and concisely, avoiding jargon, and adapting the focus and register (technical level) to meet the needs of the target audience.
Each member of our faculty with undergraduate teaching responsibility offers a recitation for the course, on an approximately three year rotation. Each recitation has a unique theme developed by the instructor who is a “content expert” in that area. Some themes offered to date include “Raw Milk,” “Eating fora Lifetime of Well Being,” “Flavor Delivery and Product Development,” and “What Defines Craft Beer?” The topics are announced well in advance, so that students can plan to enroll in a session that piques their interest.
The major WIC assignment, a 2000 word literature review paper that is revised following receipt of peer and instructor feedback, is completed in the recitation. Students are given substantial latitude to research and write on a topic of their choosing, requiring only that it relate to the overarching section theme. Recitation instructors deliver a series of lectures in the early weeks of the quarter to provide background to facilitate the students’ research for their paper. The middle third of the class is highly interactive as students develop their paper in three stages: outline, draft, and final paper. Students receive written and verbal feedback on the outline and draft. Additionally, verbal feedback is delivered during a short one-to-one meeting between the student and instructor and provides a time to discuss revision ideas.
The final third of the class seeks to apply the substantial learning that has taken place through the lectures and independent research to the analysis of some unsettled question in the field. Each recitation group selects a contentious issue from within their recitation theme, and frames it as a question for debate. Dividing into “pro” and “con” teams the groups spend about two weeks on research, development of debate scripts, and practicing their delivery. On the last day of the class, all sections come together to stage the debates. The entire department is invited, so that all can benefit from the insights developed on each topic during the quarter.
Instructors are encouraged to choose their recitation themes with an eye to the debate. For example, in the “What Defines Craft Beer?” recitation, students chose to debate the timely question “Is the acquisition of small craft breweries by large brewing corporations bad for craft brewing?” Like the above, the topics the students select often encompass social, economic, political or environmental questions, stretching our students to think about the interface of science and society. The debates tend to be lively, as students often approach the topics with strong preconceptions. The critical thinking involved in preparing to defend a position typically results in students exiting with a much better informed understanding of the issues.
Having taught the FST385 WIC for two years, we have analyzed some data and have preliminary opinions about the outcomes. Several assignments, including the revised paper have been evaluated by a rubric (see below) that assesses five dimensions of the writing: content, organization, reasoning, use of language, and presentation. For each dimension, three levels of achievement were defined: capstone, milestone and benchmark. Our goal has been to have almost all students achieve outcomes at a milestone, or higher, level. We fell short of this goal under the old model. Of 60 students enrolled in the final offering of the old WIC course, only 75% were assessed to have achieved above the benchmark level in the major written assignments, and some 10% of students did not even reach what we would consider a benchmark level performance. Initial results from applying the same rubric assessment to FST385 are very encouraging. Some 84% of students were judged to have achieved at a milestone or better level, with about half judged to have completed these assignments with capstone quality, and almost none falling below benchmark.
Quantified improvements in writing are matched with positive feedback from recitation instructors and students. Students and professors report satisfaction around having in-depth, individual discussions about subject material and several students have commented that the new WIC class provided the first opportunity to discuss their writing with a mentor. The intentionally small recitation size allows for extensive interaction between students and instructor without placing an undue burden on faculty members, while the three year faculty rotation avoids the potential hazard of instructor “burnout” from the intensity of such a course.
Having more than a dozen individuals involved in teaching our WIC presents a challenge to providing consistency of outcomes and equivalence of assessment of student work. To address this, both lecture instructors have assumed the role of orienting the recitation instructors to the goals and standards of the course. Prior to each offering, we jointly score and then discuss papers retained from previous iterations of the course to help calibrate the assessment provided by recitation instructors. That said, we continue to seek ways to more accurately assess our students and welcome suggestions from the OSU WIC community.
In the end, we’re pleased with the opportunity that our growth-induced WIC crisis provided. It has allowed us to rethink the way that we teach students to write about food science and provided a better experience for students to learn food science by writing.
*Thirty is the upper limit of class size allowed for WIC courses. Twenty to twenty-five is more appropriate. The FST use of small recitations assures students of writing feedback. -VTB
FST Rubric for Written Communication in FST
|Capstone||Milestone||Benchmark (and below)|
|Topic is well developed, effectively supported and appropriate for the assignment. Effective thinking is clearly and creatively expressed. Writing is appropriately concise, but complete.||Topic is evident with some supporting details; generally meets requirements of assignment. Efficiency of communication could be improved.||Topic is poorly developed. Supporting details absent or vague. Trite ideas and/or unclear wording reflect lack of understanding of topic and audience.|
|Writing is clearly organized with effective introduction and conclusion. Each segment relates to the others according to a carefully planned framework||Writing demonstrates some grasp of organization with a discernible theme and supporting details.||Writing is rambling and unfocused, with main theme and supporting details presented in a disorganized unrelated way.|
|Substantial, logical, & concrete development of ideas. Assumptions are made explicit. Details are germane, original, and convincingly interpreted.
|Offers somewhat obvious support that may be too broad. Details are too general, not interpreted, irrelevant to thesis, or inappropriately repetitive.||Offers simplistic, undeveloped, or cryptic support for the ideas. Inappropriate or off-topic generalizations, faulty assumptions, errors of fact.|
|Language, Grammar, and Usage
|Writing is free of errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. Paragraphs are well-focused and coherent with a logical connection of points. Voice and style are appropriate for the type of paper assigned.||Writing has some errors but these are not too distracting. Paragraphs occasionally lack focus or coherence. The connection of ideas is sometimes disjointed. Voice and style don’t always fit the type of paper assigned.||Errors are frequent and distracting, so that it is hard to determine meaning. Paragraphs generally lack focus or coherence. There is not a logical connection of ideas or flow of sentences. Voice and style are not appropriate for the type of paper assigned.|
|Report/essay looks neat, crisp, professional. Tables, figures and citation are effectively and correctly incorporated.||Report/essay looks neat but violates some formatting rules.||Report/essay looks untidy and does not follow basic formatting rules.|
Adapted from Brenau University and Barbara Walvoord, http://www.winona.edu/air/rubrics.htm
Draft Date: 11.11.05, by T. Shellhammer, w/corrections and additions 9/12/06, 4/9/2013 by D. Smith