The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Writing in Schools, Higher Education and Employment Settings (WISHEES) project, led by the Thinking Writing team at Queen Mary University of London, seeks to address a gap in the current digital offer by creating a collection of written texts from schools, higher education and employment sectors. The aim of the collection will be to provide a searchable archive of texts which can be used by school teachers and academics to prepare students for the writing demands of university and employment, thus aiding transition from school to university and employment.
Follow the progress of the project on this blog:
Teresa McConlogue 16.00 on 30th July 2012
Barts and Queen Mary Science Festival 10th July
I went to Charterhouse Square on a rainy Tuesday morning, to the second Barts and Queen Mary Science Festival. It was an excellent event. In the Marquee, there were a range of stalls from research groups and, throughout the day, a series of short lectures. I particularly liked the talk by Professor Gene Etics (Professor Patricia Munroe) and her friend Molly Cule, who gave a fun talk about DNA, genetics and inheritance, tracing the family trees of various characters from the Harry Potter books.
All of the talks were informative and well-pitched, I thought, for school children and a non-specialist audience. Dr Fulvio D’Acquisto gave an entertaining talk on the benefits of inflammation with lots of appealing hand drawn slides. Eleanor Crook, a waxwork artist, gave a fascinating talk on the use of wax in medicine, showing slides of her own waxworks and there was an opportunity to handle the wax and make your own waxwork.
The festival was attended by students from several secondary schools, with their teachers and some members of the public. It was great to see the effort that presenters put in to making difficult topics assessable to a young audience, encouraging participation and fun. Members of the Red Cross involved the audience in triaging, deciding which patients to treat first and how to treat burns and fractures, emphasizing the importance of using common sense in first aid.
This is the second year of the festival; it’s worth looking out for next year. For more info and to see photos and copies of the presentations, go to:
…and here’s a taster:
Teresa McConlogue 17.00 on 16th April 2012
On the 12-13 April I attended the very enjoyable HEA Stem Annual conference at Imperial College and the Royal Geographical Society, London. This was a large conference (300+ participants) with presentations from each of the STEM subjects areas and a strand for STEM learning and Teaching papers.
I followed the Innovative Practice theme in the Learning and Teaching strand and saw some excellent presentations:
Exocafe – a talk by Dr.Steve Fossey of UCL (Department of Physics and Astronomy). Steve gave an engaging talk on the discovery of ‘exoplanets’, Earth-like planets orbiting other stars like our Sun. He described how it’s possible to detect these planets and how the Exocafe programme makes it possible for undergraduates to get involved in research at an early stage in their studies (from 1st year). Students are excited by the prospect of finding Earth-like twins, get involved in a research community and acquire a better understanding of research methodology. The programme is an extracurricular programme, supported by postgraduate students who supervised the 50 observing nights, watching the stars (see http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/stem-conference/STEM%20Learning%20and%20Teaching%20Issues%201/Steve_Fossey.pdf for more details). Steve drew on the idea of collaborative researched proposed by Chang (2005), where students build on work done in previous year and develop an ‘inheritance mechanism’ so that work reaches a publishable standard (see our Research Based Learning and Writing pages for more examples of projects like this that Thinking Writing has supported).
I then popped in on some sessions on Innovative Practice in the Biosciences and caught a fascinating talk by Dr. Cas Kramer (University of Leicester) who has developed an educational board game to teach evolution. The game was originally developed for school students, but can also be used with undergraduates. The game can be played in 45 minutes and aims to teach the basic concepts of evolution.
(see http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/genetics/genie/news/news/genie-news-1st-december-2010) .
Innovative ways of using new technology featured in this conference, especially as a solution to problems of large classes and assessment. Geoff Rubner gave a fun presentation on using mobile phones, and other devices, to vote in lectures (without having to buy electronic clickers). Even better, the system allows for feedback to be sent to students, so it supports two way communication. It also allows the lecturer to track student responses, find out what they do and don’t understand and plan revision lectures appropriately. See a demonstration of mbclick here: http://mbclick.com/desktop/index.aspx.
In the Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (GEES) strand, I presented on the Wishees website, looking at transition from school to university.
For more details on the conference and to see the programme go to: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events/detail/2012/academyevents/STEM_annual_conf.
Teresa McConlogue 12.00 on 30th March 2012
We have formally finished our JISC project, written the final report and our website is live, however, we are continuing to develop resources for Stem Wishees and to collaborate with schools to collect texts and videos. In the coming year we will be working with Cambridge Heath Sixth Form Consortium, St Paul's Way Trust School and the Drapers Academy.
We also have an interesting cross-over project. Thinking Writing has been working with departments in QMUL on developing research-based learning and writing modules. One of these projects is in the School of Biology and Chemical Sciences on the second year Global Change module. This module gives second year undergraduates the opportunity to carry out original research, collaborate on writing an experimental report and write a press release to promote awareness of their research. Students construct hypotheses and are involved in experimental design. We will be collecting examples of students' written work on this module along with the tutor's judgement of this work. Watch this space!
Teresa McConlogue 12.00 on 16th December 2011
We launched our website today at a lively meeting of academics and students from QMUL and other UK universities, school teachers and teachers from the pre-university sector. Some students who were involved in the project gave short talks on the value of the website. There followed group discussions and lots of ideas for developing the website including adding videos from students talking about their work, especially formative work where they receive feedback and then have an opportunity to improve. It was suggested the pre-university sector, responsible for a lot of Stem education, should be represented. We talked about the difficulty of collecting first year work and of engaging with employers. We also discussed how Stem Wishees could be used with early career academics and student teachers, to help them develop a sense of quality in Stem student writing.
Teresa McConlogue 12.00 on 30th September 2011
Our final project meeting brought together participants from universities and schools. One aim of our project was to promote dialogue between academics and school teachers around STEM writing, giving tutors ideas on ways of helping develop student writing. The meeting also gave us an opportunity to thank participants for their contributions to the website and to show what had been achieved.
Debra Hills 12.00 on 27th September 2011
On 26th September, the Thinking Writing Department at Queen Mary were given a day’s training in the use of Google Analytics (GA). While setting up GA is free, we wanted to know how to set it up effectively, in particular how to track visits to specific units of the collection.
The 46-page booklet was rather intimidating but the session was well-pitched. Our trainer, Ben from Periscopix, talked us through the features which are likely to be most useful for Stem Wishees.
The ‘dashboard’, that is, the page which displays visits and time spent on the website as a whole, is easily navigable. Some of the more advanced features may well be forgotten but with such an extensive booklet, we should be able to work out what we need to know as and when it comes up.
Ben was helpful in warning us we need to set up GA before the website goes live, that the pdfs and videos on the pages will need to be tagged separately in order to give us the information we need and that this tagging should be built into our CMS so that when we upload new content it can be tagged and monitored. A useful day’s training but the test will be when we use it for ourselves.
Teresa McConlogue 12.00 on July 19th, 2011
Now that our website development is under way and most of the text collection has been done, we wanted to get some feedback from users. We hosted a user testing session with A/S level Science students from a local school. Students and their teachers viewed website mock ups, texts and videos from the collection, working in small groups and recording their feedback.
We got some very valuable and thoughtful feedback; one student commented that the purpose of the website was unclear, so we realised that we needed a clear statement about purpose on our homepage. Another student said he would find the website useful when making choices about university courses. Students suggested more visuals to accompany the podcast and rated the video on Maths posters highly as the tutor pointed to sections in the posters, illustrated his points with examples and gave advice on how to improve each poster. Users also commented on the need for a student voice on the website, suggesting that students rate the podcasts and posts comments explaining how they used the texts and podcasts. Other suggestions were to provide ideas for further reading, PowerPoint slides to accompany the videos, a transcript of all podcasts and translate the podcast transcripts into other languages. Students wanted the website to be more interactive, suggesting that they should be able to upload their own texts and get feedback. So we have a lot to think about!
After the user testing, we took students on a tour of the campus, visiting science labs and finding out, from Dr. Brendan Curran, about research in one of our Biology labs.
Teresa McConlogue 17.00 on July 7th, 2011
We’ve been looking through our texts and are pleased that the bulk of the text collection has been completed. We wanted to take some time to reflect on the project so far and bring participants together for a project meeting to update them on the work we’ve done and to listen to their ideas about how the collection could be presented on the website.
Richard, our web developer, supplied us with mock ups of the home page and we asked participants to comment on the design. The interactive map, which will dominate the home page and be the main call to action, was judged to be a success, and we got many comments on how to improve the layout to make the map stand out more.
We also got lots of ideas about user testing with Henry suggesting he bring a group of school students to QMUL to view and comment on the collection so far. We’re arranging this for this week and hoping to get lots of suggestions on how to make the collection user friendly for teenagers.
We also discussed learning resources; these will provide ways into using the collection. Interactive games, for younger users, were suggested as was the idea of an electronic notepad so users can drag and drop text and write comments while they view the collection. We felt it was important not to present the texts as ‘model answers’ but to emphasis that they show variation, different ways of approaching the task, different ways of ‘getting it right’.
Teresa McConlogue 11.00am on June 8th, 2011
American texts for the STEM WISHEES collection
This month the STEM WISHEES project went Stateside, collecting texts and commentaries from STEM tutors at Qunnipiac University, Connecticut.
At Thinking Writing we are participating in an academic exchange programme with the Writing Across the Curriculum directors from Quinnipiac University. During a recent exchange visit we manage to discuss our project with STEM professors from Maths, Computer Science and Microbiology. We were delighted that many tutors were not only interested in the project but eager to participate and add to the collection.
Our visit coincided with the senior project presentations. Here senior students from Maths and Computer Science were presenting their projects, through poster presentations and question and answer sessions. In Maths Professor Cornelius Nelan had set his students mathematical problems and the task of writing a long paper, explaining their thinking and how they set about solving the problem. We were delighted to have copies of these texts, especially the long paper as it’s difficult to find examples of longer pieces of writing in Maths.
In Computer Science two professors, Mark Hoffman and Jonathan Blake, had also set students the task of preparing a poster presentation of their final year project. Mark and Jonathan were keen to talk about their students’ work, and explain the kind of thinking they hoped students would do and where they saw evidence of that thinking in their posters. Here’s the video we made of them:
We’ll edit this video and add to it to our podcast collection for the project website, along with podcasts from Professor Christian Eggers at Quinnipiac University who has contributed laboratory reports.
Debra Hills 11.30am on May 25th, 2011
Texts are now coming in from employers: Astrium have provided us with leaflets and a report while TFL have sent examples of written tasks which are part of their graduate recruitment process. TFL have one of their STEM graduate engineers collecting examples of typical day-to-day writing tasks so we’re looking forward to these – it will be interesting to compare them with undergraduate and postgraduate writing.
Over in the States, Teresa has had an extremely enthusiastic response from STEM tutors keen to be involved in the project. She has been collecting texts, contexts, consent AND filming tutors while running writing retreats and goodness knows what else! Comparing American and British university texts will be fascinating, I’m sure.
Back in London, I have learnt the hard way the importance of keeping commentaries to an agreed time limit. One tutors had so much (useful) stuff to say, the five minutes extended to twelve! While i-movies makes editing straightforward, it’s still extremely time-consuming and choosing what to cut can be difficult. So during this afternoon’s filming, planning what can feasibly be said in the specified time will be paramount. Filming will probably take up much of June and then we’ll be ready to start testing our website on real-life users. Thank you to Jisc for the workshop on user-centred design – this got me really thinking about our own website and how to attract users and keep them using!
Debra Hills 13.06 pm on May 6th, 2011
Since our last blog, before Easter, we’ve been hard at work with Queen Mary tutors pinpointing texts to add to the collection. Dr Tina Chowdbury from Engineering and Materials Science will provide us with a range of texts from Executive Summaries to Extended Abstracts; from Mathematics. Dr Franco Vivaldi is providing us with samples from his Mathematical Writing course and from Biology Dr Brendan Curran and Dr Jenny Schmid-Araya are collecting posters, essays, field-trip reports and lab reports.
The texts will be collected in batches of three – one task with three different answers. This is to show how tasks can be approached in different ways and in the commentaries tutors will discuss what they value in each piece. Tasks will have a written context giving some background such as the level of the students, why the task was set and how it fits into the course. Dr Tina Chowdbury has already provided us with contexts for her 4th year student texts and here is one as a sample:
In year 4, Masters in Engineering students conduct a research / design group project with industry. At the end of the project, students write a lengthy technical report (up to 200 pages) which details the background to the project, the methods used, results and discussion of the work carried out by six students. The group also write an executive summary which is a short document (3 to 5 pages) which summaries the major findings of the technical report. Executive summaries are for readers who do not have time to read the in-depth technical report. The audience could be a professional, an academic or a non-technical person who has an interest in the research field. The executive summary summarises the key findings and benefits of the research. It begins with a brief introduction to the topic including the aims, objectives and conclusions the project has reached. This is followed with a concise statement of the key findings and evidence to support each finding with arguments, recommendation for actions and justification for the proposed actions. The executive summary therefore allows the reader to understand how the project reached the major conclusions in a short space of time.
We’ve also collected AS Science texts from Cambridge Heath Sixth Form, a local school in Tower Hamlets. One of the A level Biology teachers is setting his students a specific writing task which he hopes will be useful for the collection. Hopefully, we’ll see these next week. Once we’ve got texts and contexts coming in, we can move onto the next task – filming the commentaries in which teachers, tutors and employers will talk about the texts themselves. In the meantime, I have a “Teaching Writing Students to Write in Mathematics” workshop to attend – should be very interesting.
Debra Hills 1.02 pm on April 21st, 2011
Last week we met two graduate recruitment officers from TFL, Craig and Liz, who were unable to attend the first project workshop. They were extremely enthusiastic about the project and could see how useful such a collection could be. They saw the resource as particularly valuable for graduate job-seekers both in order to write the best possible job applications and to learn about the type of texts STEM graduates are expected to write in the workplace.
They are keen to provide examples of applications (forms, covering letters CVS) with commentaries. While there is help available on this type of writing already, they thought text commentaries specifically on STEM graduate job applications would be useful. For instance, Liz mentioned CV which are so technical, she cannot understand them, and, as a consequence, don’t pass the first hurdle.
A fundamental problem with graduate writing, these employers stressed, is inappropriate language and basic spelling and grammar mistakes. Applicants at TFL are screened blind (gender, race, university all blanked out), as is the policy in many companies. Thus, the ability to stand out by writing effectively is essential. Those who pass the first screening must then do a sample written report. Craig and Liz are more than happy to collect samples of these; clearance should not be a problem.
We talked about the type of writing which their STEM graduates are expected to produce at work such as reports and presentation slides. They will discuss these with some of their graduate employees who will then provide the commentaries. Some are recent graduates and will be in a good position to discuss how work/university writing differs.
Craig and Liz brought along a work experience student called Alex who has agreed to come back in summer as one of our test- users when we try out the website. First we need to collect the texts. Our TFL team will start collecting and we’ll meet again in mid-May.
Teresa McConlogue 1:30 pm on April 19, 2011
Here is our sample video commentary:
Debra Hills 2:14 pm on April 12, 2011
On 7th April we met with the website developers to talk through the functionality of the site. Richard, the Head of Web/Web Designer at Queen Mary and James, an outside developer will be building the site. As novice website builders, the task of creating a community collection website from scratch is rather daunting but we have plenty of ideas. The RunCoco website; presentations at the JISC programme meeting; research into other community collections (particularly the University of Oxford’s Great War archive) and discussions with colleagues have provided us with both inspiration and lots of food for thought.
We followed the advice of one of Queen Mary’s Electronic Services librarians and wrote a list of must haves; should haves would likes and shouldn’t haves for the site. This was really useful in helping us to prioritise what was most important for the site. Most of our must haves were met with nods; for instance, a searchable database, on an easily accessible version of software and split screens so that texts, commentaries and transcripts can be used together. Not all, however! Our idea of moving stars at the top of the page was rejected as overcomplicated (it would have looked so nice…) and our request that users should be able to make notes while on the website and email these to themselves raised issues of possible misuse. What is fundamental, of course, is that the website is easy to navigate; the texts are clear to read as well as easy to scroll thorough, and that the commentaries to the texts are easy to watch and clear to understand.
Our web developers agreed on the importance of preselecting keywords in order to maximise Google hits and advised us to use these keywords in the main body of the pages – for example page-headings/sub-headings – as this makes a big difference. One of the designers had thought the project title – STEM WISHEES to be a typo (WISHEES stands for Writing In Schools, Higher Education and Employment Settings). He suggested we create two URLs: STEM WISHES and STEM WISHEES just to be on the safe side. This type of practical advice was greatly appreciated.
Since we plan to start creating related learning resources in May, we discussed the type of software tools which will be compatible with our website. Queen Mary’s Academic English Online resources have used Hot Potatoes, Tanida Quizbuilder and Learning Objects and Richard needs to check that all of these can be used. We’ll ask school teachers and academics if there are other tools they would like to use to create learning resources and check with the web team that these will be compatible.
Richard is confident he’ll have some mock-ups of the layout by early May so watch this space!
Debra Hills 1:55 pm on April 7, 2011
On Wednesday 6th April we held our first project workshop to discuss the types of texts it would be useful to collect and to think about the accompanying commentaries. Unfortunately, no teachers could make the event but we managed to meet several teachers in their schools this week to explain the project and discuss texts and commentaries.
Dr Jenny Schmid-Araya and Dr Brendan Curran had provided us with posters made by their first year Biology students as a starting point for the workshop. We discussed how lab reports, essays, short answers would be useful to collect from students and how technical reports, emails and presentation slides would be useful from employers. Osman Bawa, a Queen Mary graduate who now works at Astrium, mentioned that in fact much of the writing he does is minutes – something he’d never had to write at university. He is hoping to find a good example of this to include in the collection.
The issue of consent arose in discussion. Authors of texts (whether students or employers) must sign consent forms and user licences before their texts can be uploaded onto the web. Academics were concerned that at this time of year, students can be difficult to track down and gaining these signatures could prove time-consuming or even, given the short time-scale of the project, impossible. To overcome this, we decided to offer an incentive to students to sign and it was agreed that this is likely to work. Issues around using employer texts were different; more to do with confidentiality and joint authorship. However, it was suggested that employer texts should be those which are already public, where possible, and that anything sensitive should of course be edited.
After text discussion we moved onto commentaries. Dr Jenny Schmid-Araya had kindly worked with us to produce a sample commentary of around five minutes. This was well-received; perceived as clear and practical. The dialogue between academic and interviewer was seen as dynamic and the content likely to be of practical use to students.
After this, discussion broadened to aims of the project and how we imagined users to interact with the website. We discussed different types of users: how it is likely to be a resource for school teachers to enable them to see the type of writing expected at university; for university academics who can gain a better idea of how first year students have been taught to write and to see the types of texts graduates are expected to write. Fundamentally, however, it is a resource for STEM students to enable them to improve their writing. Participants agreed that the website needs to be simple to navigate, attractive to young people and gave a number of excellent suggestions as to how to achieve this.
An interesting dialogue emerged between academics and graduates: Dr Brendan Curran was keen to know how well university writing assignments prepared graduates for employment. The discussion moved on to how, in secondary education, theories and ideas can be so simplified as to be no longer accurate and how important it is for university students to ‘unlearn’ these simplistic explanations.
Our next stage is to start collecting texts and commentaries – we’ll keep you posted.
Teresa McConlogue 1:30 pm on March 18, 2011
We attended our first dissemination event, last Friday, and took the opportunity to publicise the project and invite participation. The event was the 'Literacy in Science' conference at the Professional Development Centre, Tower Hamlets on 11th March. The aim of the conference was to look at ways of developing literacy in school science writing. Thinking Writing has been working with schools in the area developing materials and strategies to help students focus on language. One of the workshops at the conference was based around a Thinking Writing strategy which aims to help students look at cohesion and links within their texts. We took the opportunity to talk to local teachers and Science Advisors about the STEM WISHEES project, raise awareness and make contacts. As a result, I’ve been contacted by several school teachers and Science Advisors expressing interest in the project.
We have followed this up by organising a workshop for potential project participants on April 6th from 4 - 6pm. The aim of the workshop will be to think about the kind of texts we should select for the STEM WISHEES collection and also to look in detail at the content of the commentaries; discussion during the workshop will help us develop guidelines for commentaries. We will be inviting school teachers, academics and employers to participate in the workshop.
This project is funded by the JISC eContent programme 2011