June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
June 19, 2019
Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies
Purpose. While many engineering programs require technical writing courses, students tend to view writing as unrelated to their technical work in engineering. Faculty commonly complain about a lack of progress in student writing of technical reports in laboratories. Faculty also have few opportunities to learn about effective writing instruction. This paper presents a study that integrated a writing-in-the-disciplines approach into chemical engineering undergraduate laboratory courses. Specifically, we investigated whether students would transfer what they learned from one short technical report to another. Our approach involved component submission, providing feedback, and requiring revision on a first short technical report, followed by a second short technical report that involved only component submission.
Methodology. Unlike many programs that offer one or two 3-credit laboratory courses, our program—at a Hispanic-serving research university in the Southwestern United States—offers four 1-credit laboratory courses, spanning the junior and senior years. We revised the writing process in three of the lab courses. Students complete two short technical reports one component at a time; on the first, they received feedback and revised their work.
To assess the impact of these changes, we compared the total scores from the first and second reports that instructors provided using rubrics. The rubrics evaluated both conceptual knowledge and writing quality resulting in composite scores that reflect overall report quality. We conducted t-tests to evaluate whether students transferred their understanding from the first short report, on which they received intensive feedback, to the second, on which they did not. To understand faculty perceptions related to writing and the feasibility of our approach, we interviewed faculty about their experiences.
Results and conclusions. We found that the overall quality of reports improved from the first to second report, t(48) = 3.19, p = .003 in the Spring junior lab and t(54) = 3.76, p = .0004 in the Fall senior lab. Interviews with faculty highlight that while students initially disliked the emphasis on writing, across semesters they came to view it as beneficial. We see this as tied to using variants of a consistent feedback-and-revision approach across multiple semesters.
Implications. This study reinforces past research showing the benefits of writing in the disciplines approaches. We share faculty insights about managing the feedback workload through differentiated rubrics and providing oral feedback, component submission and peer review.
Hubka, C. A., & Chi, E., & Chen, Y., & Svihla, V., & Gomez, J., & Datye, A. K., & Mallette, T. L. (2019, June), A Writing in the Disciplines Approach to Technical Report Writing in Chemical Engineering Laboratory Courses Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. https://peer.asee.org/32019
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