Fostering Student Success with Access to Practice

By Vanessa Woods, Maggie Safronova, and Linda Adler-Kassner


As we develop courses that introduce students to practices and content within our respective disciplines, we must recognize that the students who enter our classrooms come with different social and academic experiences that inform their learning. In large introductory courses where the majority of participants can be categorized as disciplinary novices, this lack of access can lead to a disconnect that discourages students and frustrates professors.  As educators, we strive to design courses that provide students with access to our discipline regardless of how their prior academic experience shaped students’ process of learning.  Access to Practice (ATP) investigates how the development and implementation of highly structured peer review activities contribute to student academic experience.

Through ATP, UC Santa Barbara instructors work with the Center for Innovative Teaching, Research, and Learning (CITRAL) to design highly structured writing and peer review prompts focusing on challenging course concepts or challenging ways of writing. Over the two+ years CITRAL has sponsored ATP, faculty from Classics to Psychological and Brain Sciences, Political Science to Ecology, Evolutionary, and Marine Biology have developed ATP prompts and peer reviews, often in very large classes. Students have written and provided feedback about subjects as wide-ranging as the calculations involved in stoichiometry and the current-day applications of the Oedipus myth.

Structured peer review activities provide students with an environment in which they can develop ways of practicing within a discipline. As the students practice the application process several times in a guided environment they have the opportunity to develop their own approach that can be transferred to different contexts. The goal of this process helps students figure out the disciplinary norms including what type of questions to ask and how to answer them, writing conventions, and appropriate types of evidence. As the students get the opportunity to actively engage with disciplinary practices we expect to see an increase in student’s metacognitive strategies as well as help them feel like true members of their discipline. Preliminary data from UCSB suggests that by writing and providing feedback aimed at practicing disciplinary norms, students gain a deeper understanding of challenging concepts. This promising data is the basis for further exploration of the mechanism by which peer review activities affect elements that contribute to student success. The possible mechanisms being explored are metacognitive strategies, a sense of disciplinary membership, and disciplinary practices. We are currently looking for collaborators. Contact Vanessa Woods at for more information.


Vanessa Woods, Ph.D.

Vanessa Woods, Ph.D. is a Lecturer with Potential Security of Employment (LPSOE) which is a tenure track lecturer position (teaching professor) at the University of California Santa Barbara. She is an expert in effective teaching practices and student success research. Vanessa is active in the SEISMIC collaboration and leads the Access to Practice Project (Experiments Working Group, Project 4).


Maggie Safronova, Ph.D.

Maggie Safronova, Ph.D. is the Associate Director at the Center for Innovative Teaching, Research, and Learning at the University of California Santa Barbara. Maggie is involved in projects that explore the role of pedagogical innovations on students’ sense of belonging in large universities. Maggie is also the project director for UCSB’s ECoach project.


Linda Adler-Kassner, Ph.D.

Linda Adler-Kassner, Ph.D. is the Faculty Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching, Research, and Learning at the University of California Santa Barbara as well as a Professor of Writing Studies and the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education. Linda is a member of the SEISMIC Collaboration Council and co-leads the Access to Practice project with Vanessa.

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