The STEAM-Active (Project Number: 2021-1-ES01-KA220-HED-000032107) project is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

Writing in the STEM classroom: Faculty conceptions of writing and its role in the undergraduate classroom

Partners' Institution
University of Peloponnese
Year of publication
Educational stage
University Level
Journal name
Science Studies and Science Education
Thematic Area
Definition and characteristics of STEAM
This paper is trying to highlight the disparity between the role of writing in the STEM classroom and the role of writing in scientific practice. Additionaly, in this work the researchers argue that, in addition to elucidating specific barriers, an understanding of instructor's conceptions of writing and its utility is needed to fully explain the lack of adoption. Finally, the study presented herein serves to bridge the gap between classroom writing and STEM research writing by exploring the relationship between STEM instructors’ conceptions of writing and their views of its role in the classroom.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The aim of this research was to understand STEM faculty's conceptions of the phenomenon of writing and its role in the classroom. The motivation for this study comes from an effort to develop and implement writing-to-learn activities in introductory STEM classes.

Interviews conducted in this study followed a nationwide survey on faculty conceptions and practices of writing in their classes. The survey was sent to all STEM faculty at very high research activity institutions that are members of the Reinvention Collaborative. The survey was developed to determine how frequently writing is being used in the STEM classroom, what types of writing are used, and what factors impact faculty’ use of writing. At the end of the survey, the participants indicated willingness to participate in an interview; 748 survey respondents marked that they would participate in follow up interviews (748 out of the 5027 total responses).
Then, data collection and data analysis followed. Once all sources were coded for practice and conceptions of writing in the classroom, an initial model was generated. The model included four faculty “profiles” with unique combinations of classroom writing practices and conceptions.

Faculty ubiquitously saw the important role that writing played in their discipline and science as a whole.
As it is described above, there were four qualitatively distinct types of faculty positions on writing in the classroom.
The four faculty positions are:
- The Traditionalist
- The Idealist
- The Utilitarian
- The Writer

The Traditionalist
What distinguished this group was the belief that for some reason, writing fell outside the scope of the STEM class for which they were the instructor. Though they recognized that writing was inherent to professional scientific practice, they did not see any writing as inherent to the scientific content that they were teaching.

The Idealist
The Idealist does not use writing in their classes (or uses very little). The Idealist's conceptions of writing are similar to the Writers’ conceptions, however. They see writing as fundamentally related to their knowledge and understanding. Though they do not use writing in their classes, they explicitly consider the value of writing for promoting understanding.

The Utilitarian
Both the Utilitarian and Writer used writing in their classes to some degree, though the Utilitarian used it less and more selectively than the Writer. The Utilitarian's desired outcomes can be separated into two goals: developing skills associated with science (separate from the content) and developing students’ technical writing and communication skills. To achieve both of these goals, students must be taught how to write effectively.

The Writer
This type of faculty-related writing to conceptual understanding, like the Idealists, and saw conceptual understanding as a desired outcome of the writing tasks that they assigned into their classes. The Writer, then, aligns closely with writing-to-learn in both conception and practice. In contrast to any of the other faculty type, Writers did not view writing as a skill, but rather a process that broadly encompassed their practice as a scientist, thereby inseparable from scientific knowledge.
Point of Strength
The point of strength of this study is the consideration of faculty from research-intensive institutions. The categorization of writing users as LTW or WTL according to the data analysis of the interviews.
case study, faculty conceptions, phenomenography, science writing, undergraduate STEM, writing-to-learn
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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