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Redesigning a “Writing for Chemists” Course Using Specifications Grading

submitted on 19.10.2020, 15:54 and posted on 21.10.2020, 05:21 by Stephen Mang, Kate J. McKnelly, Michael Morris
The Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) instituted an upper-division “Writing for Chemists” course in fall 2017 that fulfills part of UCI’s writing graduation requirement. During the 2019-2020 school year, we re-designed the course using a specifications grading system with the following goals: 1) to teach students how to develop their own writing practice, while mastering chemistry discipline-specific writing conventions, 2) to provide students with frequent and constructive instructor and teaching assistant (TA) feedback by providing ample revision opportunities, 3) to increase transparency in how students can achieve course SLOs, and 4) to provide students with consistent and clear assessment rubrics. This specifications grading approach uses a high-pass, low-pass, unsatisfactory system predicated on whether students meet a certain number of criteria for each assignment. Achievement of Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) was assessed using criteria instead of points so that instructors and students could more objectively measure student learning. Standardized rubrics and a student grade tracker helped students understand the relationship between meeting criteria, achieving SLOs, and earning grades. Students completed surveys at the end of the course to determine if their writing habits and attitudes towards writing changed. After the course, students self-reported increased propensities to pre-write and edit, and several students mentioned that they appreciated the transparency of the specifications rubrics and the control the specifications system gave them over their grades.


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University of California, Irvine


United States

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