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A Writing Program for Mechanical Engineering

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Why Industry Says that our Engineering Students Cannot Write

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.125.1 - 22.125.12



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Paper Authors


William K. Durfee University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

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William Durfee is Professor and Director of Design Education in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA. His professional interests include design of medical devices, rehabilitation engineering, advanced orthotics, biomechanics, and physiology of human muscle including electrical stimulation of muscle, product design and design education. Additional information is at

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Benjamin Adams University of Minnesota

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Mechanical Engineering

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Audrey J. Appelsies University of Minnesota


Pamela Flash University of Minnesota

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Pamela Flash directs the University of Minnesota's Writing-Enriched Curriculum Program and serves as the institution's Writing Across the Curriculum Director.

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A Writing Program for Mechanical EngineeringRecognizing that competency in writing is essential for engineers and recognizing thatthe responsibility for writing instruction rests within the major, the Department ofMechanical Engineering at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota hasundergone a process of transforming the ways its undergraduate majors learn to write.The department is part of the innovative Writing-Enriched Curriculum (WEC) programthat aims to transform writing instruction at the university by enabling faculty membersin all disciplines to infuse meaningful writing and writing instruction into theirundergraduate curricula. In the four-year pilot period (2007-2011) the WEC program willengage 22 academic units (colleges, majors, or departments). The program grew out ofdiscussions by the Provost’s Strategic Positioning Writing Task Force (2005) and thepilot is supported by a $1M grant from the Bush FoundationThe WEC program entails a three-phase, recursive process in which academic unitsdevelop, implement, and assess discipline-specific undergraduate writing plans. Theseplans articulate discipline-specific writing expectations, and plans for curricularintegration of writing instruction, writing assessment, and instructional support. At thecenter of this process are collaborative dialogues between unit faculty and specialists inwriting pedagogy and assessment about the effective integration of writing into theundergraduate curricula. Unlike other Writing Across the Curriculum initiatives that arecentrally driven or initiated by writing departments, a merit of the WEC program is that itis discipline-faculty owned and directed. Further, writing instruction is infusedthroughout the curriculum rather than being concentrated in one or two writing-intensivecourses.To inform the process, three on-line surveys were conducted of students, faculty andprofessional affiliates to determine, from multiple viewpoints, the importance of writingin the mechanical engineering discipline, attitudes towards writing and opinions about thequality of student writing. Starting with the survey results, mechanical engineeringfaculty, with the assistance of writing experts, defined and characterized writing inmechanical engineering, named the writing abilities with which the faculty would likestudents to become proficient, developed a strategy for infusing writing instructionthroughout the undergraduate curricula, and created a plan to implement and assess theprogram.Attributes mechanical engineering faculty assigned to writing in their field include:pointed, concise and factual; data-driven for credibility and seamless in its integration oftextual, numeric and graphic information. Examples of desired writing abilities includethe ability to apply knowledge of physics, mathematics, and engineering in their writingand to visually represent designs and explain salient features of a part or concept. Inmapping abilities to the curriculum, faculty quickly recognized that the bulk of writingdone by students is in problem sets and realized that effective writing of a problem set isan important skill with value beyond just problem sets.An early outcome has been the development and course integration of a series ofmechanical engineering writing style guides with the first series including problem sets,laboratory reports, and design reports. Other implemented activities include training thedepartment’s teaching assistants in how to teach and assess writing. Baseline samplingand structured assessment of student writing has occurred as the first part of alongitudinal study to determine impact of the program.

Durfee, W. K., & Adams, B., & Appelsies, A. J., & Flash, P. (2011, June), A Writing Program for Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17407

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