Skill-Based Learning

The University of Washington Senior Research Study 2009. J. Peterson, C. Beyer, S. Chang, A. Giesbrecht. OEA Report 10-01, 2010 (422K PDF*)

The University of Washington's Senior Research Study (UW SRS) was exploratory, designed to help us understand and assess the research that UW undergraduates are typically required to do as a normal part of progress through their UW experience. Seniors from 15 UW departments participated in focus groups, completed questionnaires, and brought a class paper or project that had required research which they considered challenging. Departmental results were analyzed and provided to department chairs. The 15 departments were then used as cases for this general report. The UW SRS found that, on average, students conducted research in close to half of the courses they took after their freshman year, with much of that concentrated in upper-level courses; that why and how students conducted research varied widely by disciplinary area and often by department within disciplinary areas; that students in most departments were not prepared by their high school research experience to use the research methods required of them at UW; and that the amount and structure of instruction in research methods and practices students reported varied widely by department. Finally, the study raised questions about how academic institutions define "research".

Writing at the UW: The First Year. C.H. Beyer, G.M. Gillmore, M.P. Baranowski, and N. Panganiban, OEA Report 03-03, 2003. (397K PDF*)

This report focuses on the writing experience of undergraduates as they move through the writing required in their first year at the UW. The report presents results from interview and survey questions that UW SOUL participants answered in the 1999-00 academic year, and draws on two studies of undergraduate writing conducted for the Office of Educational Assessment in 1989-91 and 1994-96. Overall, the results showed the following:

  • The amount of writing students do in their first year at the UW -- an average of 8.5 papers averaging 6 pages each -- is nearly the same as the amount of writing first-year students reported doing five years ago.
  • In addition to writing papers, students at the UW are required to write short pieces that are usually designed to keep students actively engaged in course content.
  • Students' most challenging writing at the UW is argumentative writing, and they have had little previous writing experience or instruction with the kinds of argument that they are required write at the UW. The fact that writing is shaped by disciplines is news to freshmen, as well as to some transfer students.
  • Faculty assigning papers should be aware that the kinds of papers students consider challenging require students to make arguments consistent with arguments in the discipline and to use resources outside themselves as support. In addition, challenging papers require students' time and thinking, are carefully graded, and are likely to have moved through a draft/feedback/revision process.
  • It appears that students have few opportunities to take papers through a draft/feedback/ revision writing process after their freshman year.
  • Students believe their writing improves in their first year primarily along the lines of writing in the disciplines and argumentative writing, more often attributing the improvement to "practice," rather than to "instruction."

Evaluating a Writing Program Using Portfolios of Student Writing: A Theoretical Rationale and Plan for the College of Engineering at the University of Washington. C. Scott, C. Plumb, and J. Ramey, OEA Report 97-3, 1997.

Engineering students at the University of Washington take three communication courses: one English composition course, one introductory technical writing course, and another advanced technical communication course, or a departmentally approved substitute. In addition, students complete writing assignments in many of their department courses. In May 1996, a subcommittee of the College's Educational Policy Committee recommended that the College devise a procedure that could be used to evaluate the current writing program in the College and the effectiveness of that program in preparing engineering students to write at work. The purpose of this report is to lay the theoretical groundwork for such an evaluation and to recommend a procedure. The main recommendation of the report is that the College of Engineering embark on a portfolio project that will span three years and will include soliciting and selecting student participants, collecting evidence and compiling portfolios, maintaining and analyzing evidence, and creating and implementing performance-based outcomes for the writing program in the college. The overall goal of this evaluation is to establish a common approach for teaching and assessing writing that will prepare students for writing in the workplace.

The Freshman/Sophomore Writing Experience1994-96. C. Beyer, OEA Report 97-2, 1997. (5.21MB PDF*)

This report presents the results of the second Freshmen/Sophomore Writing Study, a project that tracked the writing experience of about 45 UW students between 1994-96, and compares those results with results of the first Freshman/Sophomore Writing Study, which tracked the writing experience of about 100 UW students between 1989-91. The second Writing Study, like the first, involved collecting all of the writing done by participants in their classes during a two year period. Participants also completed reflective essays on their own writing at the end of each year and were interviewed about their courses at the end of every quarter. Results indicated that students in the second Writing Study wrote more arguments about non-literary topics as high school seniors than did students in the first Writing Study, but there was still a gap between the types of papers assigned in high school and those assigned in college. On the other hand, the writing experience of students entering the UW as freshmen in 1994 was nearly identical to that of students who entered in 1989.

Portfolio Assessment of Student Writing at the Rising-Junior Level. C. Beyer and J. Graham, OEA Report 94-6, 1994. (4.17MB PDF*)

This report presents results of three day-long portfolio assessment workshops that were designed to evaluate UW student writing at the rising junior level. Seventeen faculty from a wide range of disciplines and two administrators participated in the workshops. Participants were asked to evaluate the writing portfolios of eight students, written during their freshman and sophomore years. Criteria employed most often in evaluating portfolios was found to be signs of improvement and students' own evaluations of their work. All three workshops gave convincing evidence that the longitudinal view provided by portfolios is very different from the cross-sectional view provided by papers from one's own classes and can be a catalyst for instructional improvement.

The Junior/Senior Writing Study 1991-93. C. Beyer and J. Graham, OEA Report 94-2, 1994. (10.51MB PDF*)

The authors of this report collected all of the writing done by a sample of 119 UW students throughout their junior and senior years. In addition the students were interviewed quarterly about writing and they wrote reflective essays about their writing experiences at the end of each year. Students were found to write an average of fourteen papers and to write in an average of 43% of their classes. Most of the papers were argumentative or informative, with about equal numbers of each. Evidence is presented that the writing students do is shaped extensively by their majors and a large majority felt they learned most about writing in their majors. The report concludes with five recommendations related to writing requirements, assignments and instruction.

The Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning Courses of 1991 Graduates. G.M. Gillmore, OEA Report 91-5, 1991.

All UW students must pass one of 12 courses which satisfy the Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning (QSR) requirement. The purpose of this study was determine which courses students actually took to pass the requirement. The results showed that while overall 62% satisfied the requirement with a math course, there was a great deal of variability across colleges.

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