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A Paramedic Method Drill Master to Improve Student Writing

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Circuits and Systems Education 2

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.79.1 - 26.79.12



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Paper Authors


David Braun California Polytechnic State University

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David Braun received the Ph.D. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1991. From 1992 to 1996, he worked for Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, on semiconducting polymers for display applications. He joined California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 1996 and is now a Professor in the Electrical Engineering Department. See for more information. He teaches courses in electronics, solid-state electronics, polymer electronics and sustainability. He holds nine U.S. patents.

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A Paramedic Method Tool to Shield Engineering Instructors from Poor WritingAbstractWhile engineering instructors may enjoy reading student reports in order to help teach difficultconcepts, data analysis, challenging problem solving, communication skills, and critical thinking,too many students seem to prefer obfuscating the subject matter and key ideas by using unclearwriting. An instructor dismayed by painfully poor prose in submitted assignments has numerousfamiliar options available. Consider just a few: 1. Ignore the poor writing 2. Mark every error directly 3. Mark every error with a marginal comment 4. Give vague feedback about the poor writing over the entire assignment 5. Expect students to rewrite and resubmit work 6. Employ someone to read assignments 7. Retire or change careersInstructors who use one or more of the above techniques in response to their students’ work mayor may not see their efforts bear fruit, but they do invest time in the process, sometimes quitesignificant amounts of time.This work questions whether a minor intervention could guide students without adding anexcessive burden on instructors. Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method, described wonderfully inhis book, Revising Prose, inspired the author to steer students toward his excellent advice.However, in the author’s hands, the advice alone too often fell flat. Thinking a software approachmight work better, we devised a tool students can use to help them identify poor writingsymptoms and encourage targeted editing to improve clarity. With this Paramedic MethodHighlighter tool, students seem to respond more positively and, sometimes, even edit their work.The webpage contains the macro, instructions for its use, and videoexplanations. In practice, the tool permits students to receive automated feedback prior to firstsubmitting their work, freeing the instructor to focus on more interesting learning.This study describes the Paramedic Method Highlighter tool and its applications during the pasttwo years in Electrical Engineering lecture courses, lab courses, and senior design courses.Direct assessment of student work measures how effectively the students apply the ParamedicMethod to their writing assignments. Indirect measures survey student attitudes toward theirwriting and the Paramedic Method tool. While student attitudes toward their writing and thisintervention range from quite positive to quite negative, using the tool does correlate with signsof improved student writing.

Braun, D. (2015, June), A Paramedic Method Drill Master to Improve Student Writing Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23420

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