This article examines a pilot study of a learning contract in an online first-year writing program. The program uses a master-class model with a shared curriculum and serves more than 3,500 students a semester. In this pilot, we implemented the contract within half of our courses. Our goal was to understand the impact of a learning contract on student retention in our first-year writing courses. We also hoped to determine if the learning contract helped shift student and instructor focus from grades to skill transfer. In this article, we first discuss the process of developing a learning contract, including the challenges of collaborating with faculty to address their needs and concerns; building instructor and instructional designer buy-in; and working through the limitations of the learning management system (LMS) to implement the contract in online courses. Second, we assess the results of the initial pilot to determine whether the contract functioned as we hoped by tracking the differences in retention, pass rates, and grade distributions between learning contract and traditional courses. We also examine survey data from students and faculty to make initial observations about students' and instructors' perceptions of how the learning contract impacted teaching and learning.
Keywords: learning contract, first-year writing, assessment, online writing instruction, writing program faculty development