Writing Assignment Tutor Training in STEM (WATTS), an Approach to Enhance Student Writing

Robert Weissbach
Associate Professor & Chair of Engineering Technology
IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN

Need: The Writing Assignment Tutor Training in STEM (WATTS) program is a sustainable, interdisciplinary intervention that capitalizes on existing resources to improve student writing in STEM fields. The need for improvement in undergraduate STEM writing skills, especially in engineering fields, is widely recognized. However, several factors make addressing it difficult—the increased demand to teach more specialized content in fewer credit hours, faculty lack of expertise to address students’ writing, and the significant underestimation by students of the amount of writing that will be required in their future positions. WATTS is a targeted training session for peer writing tutors that is collaboratively taught by a STEM instructor and tutor supervisor. It is being evaluated for its impact on all involved stakeholders: students, tutors, instructors, and tutor supervisors. Guiding Questions: The project’s guiding questions re: students include: How do students’ perceptions of writing center tutoring change during their experience with WATTS? To what extent do student experiences with the writing center increase their likelihood of further utilization of it? To what extent does student writing improve pre- to post-tutoring? To what extent do students in WATTS show greater improvement than students without writing support or using writing tutors not trained in WATTS? Questions regarding WATTS’ impact on other stakeholders include: How does WATTS training impact tutor self-efficacy? How does WATTS impact tutor knowledge transfer practices? What instructor attributes facilitate successful implementation? What writing center attributes contribute to successful implementation? What tutor attributes facilitate successful implementation? To what extent do instructors and writing center supervisors successfully implement WATTS training? Outcomes: We are still collecting data, being in year two of a three-year project. We have collected baseline writing samples (students were not required to visit writing tutors) and control writing samples (students were required to visit writing tutors that were not trained using the WATTS method) and expect to discuss a comparison of them, as well as preliminary assessments of writing samples from the emerging experimental data (required sessions with WATTS-trained tutors). We also anticipate having outcomes to discuss related to pre- and post- student surveys, tutor pre- and post-training surveys, and tutor evaluations of the sessions. Broader Impacts: Improving written communication skills among STEM graduates remains an ongoing concern. Prior evaluation of student reports both pre- and post-tutoring during earlier stages of this project have indicated that improvement in student writing using the WATTS process is statistically significant if key factors of implementation are followed. Additionally, there is potential to impact tutor and instructor self-efficacy. This project allows the investigators to expand WATTS to additional engineering courses, test key factors with more instructors, refine the process, and position WATTS for broader dissemination. Several factors indicate that WATTS has the potential for broad dissemination and impact and will provide a foundation for a sustainable model for future work. The program serves as a model for institutions to capitalize on existing infrastructure and resources to achieve large-scale improvements to undergraduate STEM writing while increasing interdisciplinary collaboration and support domestically and internationally.


Ruth Pflueger, Penn State Behrend, Erie, PA; Jon Meckley, Penn State Behrend, Erie, PA; Cori Renguette, IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN; Brandon Sorge, IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN; Johanna Bodenhamer, IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN; Immanuel Edinbarough, UTRGV, Brownsville, TX; Magdalena Flores, UTRGV, Brownsville, TX; Marlene Galvan, UTRGV, Brownsville, TX; Matt Rothrock, IUPUC, Columbus, IN; Annwesa Dasgupta, University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS