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This academic year, the WAC Program has been leading an interdisciplinary scholarship of teaching and learning project, assisting faculty from several disciplines design and conduct WAC-related SOTL research. A team consisting of political science professors Kerstin Hammann and Bruce Wilson as well a psychology instructor Alisha Janowsky and Associate Director for the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness Patsy Moskal will present their research at the American Political Science Association conference in Philadelphia in September 2016. Below is the abstract of their presentation.

“Enhancing Student Writing in Online Classes through Instructor Feedback”

Many college professors, including in Political Science, find that their students’ writing skills are lacking. At the same time, written communication skills ranks high on the objectives of many programs and is frequently evaluated as part of program and departmental assessment. Improving student writing has thus become an important educational goal for many professors. The question is, though, what strategies prove useful to improve student writing. One frequently used tool is to provide feedback on student writing, with the assumption that students read the comments, understand them, and use the feedback to avoid errors (and thereby improve) in their next assignment. Yet, while the feedback loop is a required part of this process, it is unclear to what extent is actually happening.  Studies from the UK, for example, suggest students frequently do not read comments on their papers due to the illegibility of those comments, their lack of access to their professors and/or their papers, etc. Here, we assess the usefulness of comments by analyzing student reading of written comments on work submitted online. Using surveys to gauge whether students actually read feedback on their written work, we trace improvements in writing throughout the semester. Our empirical database consists of 500 students enrolled in the introductory American National Government course at the University of Central Florida during fall 2015 and spring 2016. In our analysis, we control for student demographics to see which students are more likely to read written feedback and apply the lessons learned in subsequent assignments.