Writing and STEM: a Workshop

This is a guest post by Parrish Waters, who is co-hosting an upcoming workshop featuring Russ E. Carpenter with UMW’s Writing Center. The workshop is supported by the Honors Program, Psychological Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, CTE&I, and DTLT. Join us Monday, May 8th, 11-2 in the HCC. RSVP on Facebook or E-mail Parrish.

The University of Mary Washington is a driven leader in Digital Liberal Arts pedagogy; to this end, we actively incorporate novel tools to enhance writing, rhetoric, and open discussion into our curriculum. While the ideas and philosophy of traditional liberal arts disciplines overlap well with the goals and practices of Digital Liberal Arts, many educators in STEM fields find it difficult to identify with these pedagogical strategies that have the potential to enhance their teaching, and importantly, their students’ retention.

Dr. Russ E. Carpenter, who earned his PhD in Neuroscience, serves as a Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric and as the Department of Biology’s writing specialist at Stanford University.  Working across disciplines, he has developed curricula, workshops, and courses that address many of the issues that give educators in STEM fields pause when considering joining in on the Digital Liberal Arts train. Dr. Carpenter works to demonstrate multiple strategies and tools that he and his colleagues have developed to enhance science pedagogy by incorporating compositional, rhetorical, and digital communication elements into their lessons.  From discussions about Writing to Learn activities, to framing scientific poster sessions as multimodal acts of composition, to enhancing basic strategies for supporting students as they create written and oral texts for courses, his workshops can provide educators with actionable insight to immediately improve their ability to engage with their students, assignments and learning outcomes.

I’ve just published a longer post where I explore some of these topics in more detail.

And an article published by Dr. Carpenter that discusses one such aspect of this philosophy and method

A bit more from him about his workshop:

This workshop will contain two distinct, but interrelated elements.

The first will pull on my experience as a neuroscientist working in a Program in Writing and Rhetoric and a communication specialist in the Department of Biology.  This training has provided me with a unique perspective to discuss the role of the rhetorical situation in enhancing communication across fields and positions. Understanding, mastering, and conveying a sound rhetorical strategy is crucial to shaping effective communication (be it written, oral, or multimodal).  I will discuss the concept of the rhetorical triangle, and demonstrate the effective use of this approach in both an upper level writing intensive course, and in an introductory science course.   Additionally, I will discuss a few elements of course design that I believe are crucial to meeting learning outcomes centered around enhancing communication; these include scaffolding, modeling and shared assessment design.  

The second part of this workshop focuses on the scientific research poster as a multimodal genre that provides a significant and tangible opportunity to engage these communication strategies, and how to practice these tools in the classroom. Attendees from STEM fields, Writing Centers, and Teaching and Learning programs will benefit from this directed workshop that explores methods to teach students (and faculty!) best practices for designing and pitching a research poster. As a genre, the research poster is ubiquitous, showing up at virtually all conference meetings and often outnumbering formal oral presentations by a factor of a hundred or greater.  Unfortunately, a quick survey of the academic literature that discusses the poster genre shows relatively few published papers on this topic, and the vast majority focus only on technical details of poster design (font size, arrangement etc.). Furthermore, the element of oral communication associated with the poster, “the pitch”, is rarely discussed at all.  In light of the increasing popularity of posters at academic conferences, the high stakes for students and faculty for promoting their research,  and the overwhelming number of posters that look like copy and paste wastelands of text, we will discuss the multimodal approach to poster design and pitching that I have developed as both a scientist and a communication specialist at Stanford University over the past 7 years.  

Participants will be asked to actively engage in this dynamic workshop, so come prepared with an idea that you can use to develop your own poster and pitch!  We will discuss the context of the poster session as a way to think about the genre of academic posters, explore visual design and oral presentation as a means to engage an audience, and identify elements of the poster that most effectively convey information.  We will engage directly in the workshop, while also stepping back to discuss the elements of design and how faculty and administrators at UMW can immediately put these elements into practice.   

We hope to see you at the workshop on May 8! Don’t forget to RSVP.