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Automatic grading to improve scientific literacy

Educators at Wake Forest University are developing an automatic feedback platform to improve the scientific literacy and communication skills of STEM undergraduates.

Strong communication skills are becoming a necessity for pursuing an academic or professional career in the STEM industry; however, a disproportionate number of students are entering the workforce with inadequate writing skills. Over 80% of employers surveyed in a recent report by the Association of American Colleges & Universities want post-secondary curriculums to emphasize written and oral communication skills.

The SAWHET (STEM Automated Writing Help Tool) automatic feedback system was designed to address these concerns. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through a $280,000 grant, the team at Wake Forest University is researching the effectiveness automatic feedback combined with one-on-one grading will have on improving writing skills.

Through SAWHET, students receive automatic feedback to improve their assignments which allows educators to spend their time providing more formative—rather than technical—feedback. The platform provides templates for proper scientific papers—title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, citations, etc.—and highlights both grammatical and logical errors for students to address.

Here is an example of a B-grade report submitted through SAWHET. The platform provides an evaluation of the students’ technical performance, allowing educators to grade more efficiently and focus on providing more formative feedback on a student’s logic and arguments.

Wake Forest University’s research study on the merits of automatic feedback to improve science communication will continue until July 2020. If it is a success, the program may be adopted by institutions across North America to improve the communication skills of undergraduate STEM students.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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