Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sleepless in SoTL

One of the questions that arose during yesterday's midmorning meeting with my colleagues Ophelia (official evaluator for my REU) and Fidelis (world-renowned expert in science education assessment who just happens to have retired to the Asheville area) is: "How does student technical writing improve over the course of a summer REU, given that this learning goal is given attention?" Fidelis assures us that next to nothing is known about process when it comes to REUs, especially regarding the attainment of specific learning goals surrounding professional development: writing proficiency, oral presentation, acculturation to the career of a professional academician. Any one of these would make an excellent target towards which to aim the arrows of study.

I wonder why it is that I had writing on my mind?

This summer's REU will feature much more intentional instruction in writing, the use of research databases, and the use of Mathematica. Fortunately I've got access to a good store of material relating to the second two activities: I can recycle a lot of the handouts on research I used in Fall 2006 for the now-infamous MATH 365 course, and I can borrow liberally from (or just simply reuse) the Mathematica files my colleague Nostradamus made up for the REU last summer.

As far as writing is concerned, it's always a pleasure to make up some new material. I've already got a few handouts that I gave to the students in Week 6 last summer, introducing them to the rudiments of LaTeX. Instead of holding off for six weeks, they'll be given those handouts right away, and they'll get the ball rolling in Week 1:

Week 1, Wednesday: students will be asked to download freeware LaTeX compilers and text editors (OSTeX, MiKTeX, TexnicCenter, WinEdT, etc.).

Week 1, Friday: by the end of the day, students will be asked to submit their first assignment in LaTeX, a rudimentary paperlet discussing one concept with which we've dealt during the first week's seminars. The paperlet will have the form of a research paper in miniature, structured roughly as follows:

  1. Introduction:what exactly is the concept you've chosen to write about? (Give a simple definition.) What is its history? What is known about it?
  2. Elaboration and examples: say a bit more about the concept by elaborating on your definition from above. In what context does your concept live? What concepts are related to it, and how? Give a few examples of your concept.
  3. Conclusion and discussion of future work: Bring your work together, summarizing the findings, and indicate open questions surrounding the concept you've chosen to talk about.
I hope that by asking them to so structure their work right away they'll grow accustomed to this genre.

Week 2, Friday: students will be asked to submit a research prospectus indicating at least three topics into which they would like to look during the coming weeks, including an abbreviated (and unannotated) literature review for at least one of them.

Weeks 3 through 7, Friday: students will be asked to submit "progress reports" taking the form of mini-research papers. These reports will be structured much as the paperlets described above and will continually update the reader on the students' active research. A student may choose to report on only one week at a time, or to maintain an ever-up-to-date comprehensive report summarizing all work performed until the present.

Week 8, Friday: the "final version" of a paper will be submitted. If all goes well, this paper should be a fairly close approximation to something publishworthy.

Last year only Wilhelmina's and Mirabel's paper approached publication quality by the end of the summer (speaking of which, I've got Wilhelmina's most up-to-date version sitting in my in-box, I hope to get to that today...), though with the intentional iteration highlighted above, I have hopes that many more of the students will leave with a strong piece of work in hand.

In other writing news, I'll be meeting with Lulabelle and our colleague Casanova on Thursday to discuss the directions our new writing study might take. We've got a ton of data to sift through, and any number of ways we could conceivably slice it. Between faculty journals and conversations, student pre- and post-tests, student assignments, the faculty-developed rubric and the results of its application to the students' work, there's a lot to work off of.

As I indicated towards the end of this previous assessment project, I have a hunch that this study is going to say more about faculty writing practice than it is student writing practice; this is why I'm interested in tracking the elusive "instructional intentionality": how is it that faculty's attention to writing instruction manifests itself in the classroom, and to what extent does that attention pay off in (at least perceived) significant student proficiency gains?

Beh. Mumbo jumbo mumbo jumbo...

...finally, I should say that I've already heard back from most of the former Calc I students I'd written regarding their poetry from last Fall semester. I need to make up an "interview" form to send them so that I can help them reflect on their writing process.

Well, I'm going to get going and take a look at my graph theory notes from this past semester's seminar course; I have a hunch I'll be able to modify the problem sheets to serve as a basis for next week's graph theory instruction. We may end up playing a lot of it by ear and making it up as we go along.



Anonymous said...

On the subject of learning LaTeX...

Assuming that some students will be bringing their own computer, for Mac users there is the MacTeX installer that takes care of everything a new user needs to get started: the core LaTeX system, tons of packages, a good text editor, even a bibliography manager and a system service that can typeset LaTeX math from within any application. It's a bit of a download, but it provides the easiest way for Mac users to jump in. The MacTeX site can be found here.

Also, as far as learning LaTeX itself, last summer I found the following two documents to be very useful in getting the hang of things initially:
The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2e and
Text Formatting with LaTeX: A Tutorial

DocTurtle said...

Roy: thanks for the note for Mac users, I'm not as familiar with that platform. I'll be sure to guide the students in that direction!

Snow said...

Regarding LaTeX on the Mac, TeXShop uses the MaxTeX distribution. TeXShop Installation instructions.