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Writing in the Discipline​​

Mathematics

RIC students writing

1. W​hy or in what ways is writing important to your discipline/field/profession?

In any career involving mathematics – including business, research, teaching, and other pursuits – written communication regarding process and results is important. People in careers in mathematics need to be able to explain results (including explanations for non-technical audiences), need to be able to detail the steps of a solution process, and need to be able to write precise mathematical proofs.

2. Which courses are designated as satisfying the WID requirement by your department? Why these courses?

The Math Department offers two mathematics majors: the B.A. in Liberal Arts Mathematics and the B.A. in Secondary Education, Mathematics. The department has identified two required courses in each of these majors to be designated as satisfying the WID requirement.

Liberal Arts Mathematics: MATH 300: Bridge to Advanced Mathematics & MATH 461: Seminar in Mathematics

Secondary Education, Mathematics: MATH 300: Bridge to Advanced Mathematics & MATH 458: History of Mathematics​

Our rationale for designating the courses described above as satisfying the WID requirement is as follows:

  1. Bridge to Advanced Mathematics is dedicated to the teaching of how to write formal mathematical proofs. It also contains process-oriented and explanatory writing, although to a lesser degree.
  2. History of Mathematics involves a large amount of process-oriented and explanatory writing, and, like all other upper-level mathematics courses, involves formal proofs.
  3. Seminar in Mathematics involves a large amount of process-oriented and explanatory writing, and, like all other upper-level mathematics courses, involves formal proofs.

3. What forms or genres of writing will students learn and practice in your department’s WID courses? Why these genres?

Writing in the discipline of mathematics is likely to fall into one of three categories. The first is explanatory, in which the writer communicates the essentials of a mathematical concept. The second is process-oriented, in which the writer details the reasoning throughout an analysis of a particular problem (this category can be thought of as an expanded version of the familiar instruction to “show your work”). The final category is formal mathematical proofs, detailed logical arguments that could be said to be the mathematician’s version of persuasive essays. (Source: (Russek, 1998; Flesher, 2003)

All three of the categories can inform a reader, and all three can serve to demonstrate the writer’s understanding of the topic at hand. Moreover, all can also serve as “writing-to-learn” activities as the writer must analyze and perfect his or her own understanding in order to create and revise a product.

4. What kinds of teaching practices will students encounter in your department’s WID courses?

In Bridge to Advanced Mathematics, a scaffolded approach to teaching proofs is used. The proofs begin at a simple level, with templates and guidelines available. All instructors strive to give detailed criteria for how to construct a proof: what must be said, what pattern to follow, what wording to use and to avoid, and so on. Repetition and revision are universally employed. All instructors use frequent assignments and provide feedback, and some instructors choose to use group work, peer discussion, and low-stakes class presentations. As the semester progresses, the proofs that are being studied and written get more complex, and different techniques and topics are introduced.

In History of Mathematics and Seminar in Mathematics, styles and assignments vary from instructor to instructor. However, all use daily assignments with an attempt to provide rapid feedback, and low-stakes student presentations and discussions are a staple. When projects are assigned, they are clearly defined and structured using a series of deadlines and discussions with the instructor. A survey of reading and some brief summaries is typically used to start the process, followed by a choice of topic, a collection of sources, an outline, a rough draft, and so on, with feedback from the instructor at every step.

5. When they’ve satisfied your department’s WID requirement, what should students know and be able to do with writing?

A student who has successfully completed either Mathematics major should be able to​​​​

  1. Read, construct, and write formal mathematics proofs. This includes understanding the most common techniques of proof and the logic that underlies them.
  2. Write clear process-oriented work that details the reasoning and steps in solving a mathematics problem. This includes the ability to justify each step in a solution.
  3. Write clear explanatory work to describe mathematical concepts. This includes the ability to describe mathematical concepts to an audience new to the topic at hand.​​​​

Computer Science

RIC students writing

1. W​hy or in what ways is writing important to your discipline/field/profession?

In the computer science discipline, it is important that students acquire the writing and communication skills necessary to:

  • Describe what they have accomplished and how to effectively comment/report on it
  • Give specific directions to build a software product
  • Translate technical topics into layman’s terms

2. Which courses are designated as satisfying the WID requirement by your department? Why these courses?

The Mathematics and Computer Science Department has identified two required courses in computer science in which there is an emphasis on various forms of writing within our discipline:

CSCI 212 - Data Structures - Data Structures is the final course in the introductory sequence and may be viewed as the first upper-level course in the major. For the first time, students go beyond writing a program that works to reflecting on what makes one working solution better than another. They also learn to implement and use data structures, key building blocks that programmers have found useful in many different programs, written in many languages, over the years.

CSCI 401 - Software Engineering - CSCI 401 functions as a programming capstone for the computer science major. Students spend considerable time planning their program: writing requirements documents, describing their designs both in text and in detailed formal diagrams, and spelling out detailed plans for implementing and testing. The documents, plus the programs themselves, are representative of all the major forms of writing in the discipline.

3. What forms or genres of writing will students learn and practice in your department’s WID courses? Why these genres?

In computer science, students must learn and practice technical writing in many forms. Computer scientists write technical proposals or recommendations, research papers, grant proposals, oral presentations, requirements documents, brochures, technical reports and web pages.

4. What kinds of teaching practices will students encounter in your department’s WID courses?

The following is a list of teaching practices found in many computer science classes:

  • Peer editing – Students learn a lot from each other. Students share their writing with each other and offer improvements.
  • Brain Storming and Small Group Discussions – Students are given a template and work on requirements of each section of a document.
  • Required Revisions – Like writing software, writing is an iterative process. Students first work together on drafts. The instructor then gives constructive comments and the students need to revise and upload again. This process happens several times during the semester.

5. When they’ve satisfied your department’s WID requirement, what should students know and be able to do with writing?

Students will be able to write executive summary reports that effectively describe why one implementation is better than another for solving a problem. They will also be able to write requirements documents that adequately explain how a software product will be designed, tested and used. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Software specifications and requirements
  • Software high level architecture, design method and use cases
  • Solution methodology and algorithms
  • Source code documentation, and version tracking
  • Testing methods including white box and black box testing
  • User manuals (including system installation and configuration)​​​​

Page last updated: August 26, 2019