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High Impact Practices Spotlight Series: Writing-Intensive Courses

By Tiffany MacLennan, Maple League Research Fellow and Strategist and Tanisha Campbell, Maple League Student Fellow, Knowledge Mobilization & Community Engagement

In this High Impact Practice Spotlight Series,[1] we look at writing-intensive courses. Writing-intensive courses are often small in size (~20 students) and require students to rewrite, revise, and submit a significant writing assignment. As a result, writing-intensive courses are often reserved for small, upper-year courses to accommodate the professor’s revisions and resources to help students in their projects. However, this high-impact spotlight looks at less conventional writing-intensive courses that live in large classes, first-year classes, and in the engineering department that bring writing-intensive courses to many students across the Maple League campuses.

Prof. Brittany MacDonald – St. Francis Xavier University

While Engineers are typically noted to be strong in mathematics and the sciences, one must not forget that without strong communication, engineers cannot be successful. Engineers work toward the betterment of society and early on in their studies should be introduced to effective communication and dissemination methods; through industry experience I have seen that professional communication is required to share details on projects and problems with multi-faceted groups. I incorporate intensive writing strategies into my Engineering Design and Graphics (ENGR 128) course through term projects, case studies, and Service Learning. The Service Learning program, unique to St.FX, allows students to work directly with members of the St.FX and Antigonish community towards unique problem solutions such as mobility and accessibility issues. This places students and community members in a consultant/ client scenario, building in-person and written communication skills through the engineering design process. While early in their studies, students will begin to think and conduct themselves as professional engineers; this means communication structure from appropriate casual communication (email) to a proposal and formal report. Overall, the power of communication is conveyed as the driving force of engineering success.

Dr. Patrick McBrine – Bishop’s University

I am especially excited about working with first-year students and their writing. Written communication is a core skill, and students need training and practice early in the academic careers to establish a pattern of success. In my own writing-intensive courses, I emphasize constant, short-form writing and revision through creative and collaborative assignments that allow students to read and write together. In our workshops, we read a short text for the first time together (10 minutes) and then work through a series of writing-focused questions (5 minutes each), which students answer individually (25 minutes). We then come back together as a class and discuss critical elements of these questions (30 minutes) as the basis for a particular assignment, be it a summary, analysis, or argument. Once the assignments have been submitted and graded, they are then returned to students for review and revision. All writing is revised and resubmitted as part of midterm and final portfolios, so that students can see that strong, effective writing comes from practice, revision and often collaboration.

Dr. Toni Roberts – Mount Allison University

To develop a way to engage all students across differences in sex/gender, sexuality, racialization, class and so on, I developed the classroom passport. It is the student’s passport into the class. Based on the readings (and/or lectures if a flipped course), students must use a template of questions. These vary from course to course but usually include: What is the major theme of each reading, what is the most important thing you learned, a question about the reading and what (from the readings) would you like to know more about. Live in class, I take these in at the beginning of class. I pick from the submissions (anonymously) and we use these to frame discussion for the class. An alternate includes having students pair (with their passports), square and then share. I have adapted and used this online as well within forums. This seemingly small tool has been very effective in democratizing questions and participation and in framing deep and inclusive discussion. Students have noted in SETs that they come to class prepared as a result of the passports. They have written “weekly passports…help us stay accountable and engaged” while another wrote “Toni’s enthusiasm, evaluation and classroom passports were the best!”

[1] The HIP Visibility Project is a part of a larger HIP project conducted by Research Fellow and Strategist Tiffany MacLennan. The goal of the HIP project is to make HIPs more accessible for both faculty and students. For more information about the HIP project or if you would like to participate, please contact Tiffany at

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