STEM and WAC/WID: Co-Navigating Our Shifting Currents

Guest editors: Brian Hendrickson, Roger Williams University, & Justin Nicholes, University of Wisconsin-Stout

Since its emergence in the late 1970s in the United States as a coherent scholarly and programmatic enterprise, writing across the curriculum/writing in the disciplines (WAC/WID) has been invested in shaping how writing is taught and used as a tool for teaching and learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) (Russell, 2002). Through this evolving relationship, WAC/WID has gone from informing the design, implementation and assessment of individual writing assignments in the STEM classroom (Bean, 2011) to entire programs in quantitative reasoning (Condon & Rutz, 2012), and through a paradigm that increasingly foregrounds not just faculty development but the student learning experience (Nicholes, 2018). Meanwhile, both WAC/WID and STEM education are separately evolving in response to shifting currents in and beyond higher education, including deeper consideration of students’ racial and linguistic identities (Perezā€Felkner & Gayles, 2018; Poe, 2013) and deeper skepticism toward conceptions of disciplinarity that have for decades defined both STEM and WAC/WID and the relationships between them (Gere, et al., 2015; Hawkins, et al., 2018; Rademaekers, 2015).


Introduction to Volume 19, Issue 1/2: STEM and WAC/WID: Co-Navigating Our Shifting Currents
Brian Hendrickson & Justin Nicholes
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.01

Understanding the Challenges and Needs of International STEM Graduate Students: Implications for Writing Center Writing Groups
Keira M. Hambrick & Genie Nicole Giaimo
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.02

We report outcomes from a multi-year study of writing center-sponsored writing groups at a land-grant university in the American Midwest to advocate for the unique needs of international STEM graduate students. Survey participants self-reported writing confidence, academic knowledge, amenability to peer feedback and collaboration, and other characteristics. Scores were low for international students, lower for STEM students, and lowest among international STEM students. International STEM graduate students also reported the highest degrees of improvement between pre- and post-participation surveys. We argue that writing centers and academic departments need to develop support services tailored to the unique needs of this population.

Sustainable Writing Support in a Second Year Pharmacy Course
Cristina Hanganu-Brexsch, Justin Everett, Trisha Egbert, Lisa Charneski, & Gary Sloskey
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.03

In this article, we describe a multi-year writing intervention in a high-enrollment professional pharmacy course, implemented by a multidisciplinary team of pharmacy and writing instructors. Built around one capstone writing assignment, the “drug information question” paper, the intervention was designed to specifically improve students’ writing and health science reasoning skills and their overall scores in the course, since historically students scored low on this assignment. We provide a background of our pharmacy program and an overview of writing in pharmacy, describe the history of the intervention and collaboration between pharmacy and writing faculty, and explain the design and principles of the intervention, the results, and the implications of the study for STEM writing pedagogy. Over the course of four years, starting with a peer-review model, we have gradually added lectures, workshops, and optional and mandatory Writing Center sessions in an effort to improve students’ learning and health science reasoning skills. Over the same period of time, student scores on their written capstone in the course improved significantly, and survey results indicated that the students viewed the peer review process and the writing program interventions favorably.

Like Speaking a Blueprint: STEM Writing Tutors’ Disciplinary and Writing Identities
Meghan Velez
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.04

This paper argues that undergraduate peer-to-peer instruction in STEM writing provides valuable insights into the relationship between writing and disciplinary identity. Drawing on observation and interview data from a writing center staffed by undergraduate STEM students, I argue that STEM writing tutors construct disciplinary identities by drawing on coursework and extracurricular writing experiences that contribute to rhetorical knowledge. Tutors then leverage this knowledge and experience within tutoring sessions by engaging in explicit genre instruction and disciplinary socialization.

Tracing Literate Activity across Physics and Chemistry: Toward Embodied Histories of Disciplinary Knowing, Writing, and Becoming
Bruce Kovanen, Nicole Turnipseed, Megan Mericle, & Kevin Roozen
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.05

Scholarship animating both WAC/WID (Allan, 2013; Gere, et al., 2018; Hendrickson, 2016; Kells, 2007; Reid, et al., 2016) and STEM (Roth, 2003; Roth & Jornet, 2013; Tsui, 2007) has increasingly called for pedagogical attention to learners’ lived, embodied experiences of knowing, writing, and becoming in and across disciplinary worlds. As one response to such calls, this article argues for “literate activity” (Durst, 2019; Prior, 1998, 2015; Prior & Shipka, 2003) as a productive approach to addressing people’s embodied engagements with semiosis in unfolding moments that are historically dispersed across people, tools, times, and places. To illustrate what attention to literate activity offers for understanding writing and learning, we present analyses of learners’ embodied actions across an array of semiotic resources including texts, talk, images, and gestures for two different STEM settings: physics and organic chemistry. In addition to foregrounding the wealth and variety of semiotic modalities that mediate students’ embodied engagement with disciplinary science, our analyses illuminate the extended histories of semiotic activity that learners continually build as they fashion disciplinary ways of knowing, writing, and becoming.

Writing with Research: Understanding How Students Perceive Sources in the Sciences
Kristin M. Klucevsek
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.06

Students in the sciences learn to engage with primary research articles as a fundamental part of their discipline, essential to both writing and research. These sources are difficult to navigate, leading students to use (and misuse) these sources in a variety of complex ways. As instructors and researchers, we are aware of these challenges, but less aware of why they happen. Here, I analyze surveys, student papers and reflections to understand how students perceive primary research articles across science majors at one institution, as well as their challenges in citing these sources. Together, these results suggest that students gradually develop an understanding of a primary source as a model of the scientific process. To teach source use in the sciences and develop thresholds concepts, there must be an iterative approach that combines instruction and research from writing, STEM education, and information literacy.

Lecture, Discussion, Group Work, Repeat: Using Aerial Photography and Machine Learning to Study the Use of Writing-Related Pedagogies in STEM Courses and Their Impact on Different Student Subgroups
Julia Voss, Navid Shaghaghi, Andres Mauricio Calle, Kristin , & Liam Abbate
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.07

Although Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) has long focused on incorporating writing and related literacy activities into STEM education, the extent to which these pedagogies are widely used in STEM teaching remains unclear, as does their impact on student course performance, especially for underrepresented and marginalized student groups. Using a sample of 18 STEM courses at a private liberal arts university, this study uses unique empirical methods to reconsider, for STEM disciplines, Russell’s (1990) claim that WAC has failed to make a “permanent impact” on higher education by a) using photography to document classroom activities in real time and b) using machine learning to categorize these images to determine which learning activities are used in STEM instruction and in what proportions. We find that (a) lecture continues to dominate in STEM education and that (b) some active learning pedagogies (discussion and group work) have ambivalent relationships to course performance (which differ according to student subgroups defined by gender, race, national origin, and other factors) while WAC pedagogies like reading and writing, although rare, are associated with improved student course performance. In light of these findings, we suggest implications for STEM pedagogy, best practices, and future research to prioritize equitably designed pedagogy in STEM.

Mapping the Relationship of Disciplinary and Writing Concepts: Charting a Path to Deeper WAC/WID Integration in STEM
Suzanne Lane, Atissa Banuazizi, Malcah Effron, Leslie Roldan, Susan Ruff, Jessie Stickgold-Sarah, Michael Trice, & Andreas Karatsolis
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.08

Studies have shown that students learning to write in engineering fields struggle to integrate subject matter and communication expertise, and that STEM faculty’s communication knowledge often remains tacit, rather than being explicitly taught to students. Here we show a method for eliciting and revealing tacit communication knowledge using what we call disciplinary reasoning diagrams. We offer diagrams we have developed for Materials Science and Engineering, Brain and Cognitive Science, proof-based Mathematics, and Computer Systems, and explain how they function as instructional tools that can help students integrate knowledge domains from STEM and from writing, and to scaffold their ability to think critically and communicate effectively in their field.

“We Are What We Eat”: Adopting Recipe Writing as a Boundary Object of First-Year Writing and Nutrition Courses
Soyeon Lee & Shuo Zhang
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.09

Over the recent past, interdisciplinarity has been theorized as a tool that can help teachers and researchers create new epistemological spaces in higher education. Given the emphases on vocation-oriented programs and STEM-skilled workforce education, two-year colleges have the potential to explore the development of an interdisciplinary collaboration between STEM fields and writing courses. However, WAC/WID scholarship has provided few concrete examples of interdisciplinary partnerships between STEM and writing courses in two-year college contexts. Using a case study of a pilot collaboration between Composition I and Nutrition courses, the authors present practical strategies for engaging students in interdisciplinary writing by treating a specific genre as a boundary object for the purpose of culturally situated solutions in response to problem-based exigences triggered by the unequal impacts of COVID-19. The authors argue that adopting a specific genre-based writing project as a boundary object can help students experience interdisciplinary learning and community-based knowledge making processes and cross boundaries across linguistic and cultural resources.

What Can We Learn about WID from Exceptionally High-Achieving STEM Majors?
Thomas Deans
DOI: 10.37514/ATD-J.2022.19.1-2.10

This study reports on how a cohort of 16 especially accomplished undergraduate STEM majors narrate their literacy histories, experience learning to write in the sciences during their college years, and reflect on their priorities for writing more generally. These participants report largely positive early schooling experiences with writing; attribute progress in learning scientific writing during their college years more to the social networks of their undergraduate research labs than to traditional writing-intensive courses; associate “writing” more with personal agency than with assimilation to a disciplinary discourse community; assign more meaning to writing that is personal, narrative, public, and/or novel than technical; and believe that writing should serve multiple purposes, at once within and beyond their home STEM disciplines. Some of these findings disrupt the novice-to-expert assumptions of WID theory and suggest a latent demand for writing courses that depart from traditional technical communication and writing-in-the-major offerings.

Complete APA Citation

Hendrickson, Brian, & Nicholes, Justin. (Eds.). (2022, November 4). STEM and WAC/WID: Co-Navigating Our Shifting Currents [Special Issue]. Across the Disciplines, 19(1/2). https:/