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Adventures in Paragraph Writing: The Development and Refinement of Scalable and Effective Writing Exercises for Large-enrollment Engineering Courses

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Teaching Communication I

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.141.1 - 24.141.24



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Paper Authors

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Rebecca R Essig Purdue University Orcid 16x16


Cary David Troy Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Ph.D., Stanford University, Civil and Environmental Engineering (2003)
Assistant Professor, Purdue University, School of Civil Engineering (2007-present)

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Brent K Jesiek Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Brent K. Jesiek is Assistant Professor in the Schools of Engineering Education and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. He is also an Associate Director of Purdue's Global Engineering Program, leads the Global Engineering Education Collaboratory (GEEC) research group, and is the recent recipient of an NSF CAREER award to study boundary-spanning roles and competencies among early career engineers. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech. Dr. Jesiek draws on expertise from engineering, computing, and the social sciences to advance understanding of geographic, disciplinary, and historical variations in engineering education and professional practice.

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Josh Boyd Purdue University

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Josh Boyd is associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Brian Lamb School of Communication.

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Natascha Trellinger Buswell Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Natascha Trellinger is a first year PhD student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her BS in aerospace engineering from Syracuse University. At Purdue, Natascha is a part of the Global Engineering Education Collaboratory (GEEC) and is interested in global teaching and learning at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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Adventures in paragraph writing: the development and refinement of scalable and effective writing exercises for large enrollment engineering coursesThe ability to communicate effectively is a highly desirable attribute for today’s graduatingengineers. Additionally, the inclusion of communication components in technical courses hasbeen shown to enhance learning of technical content and can be leveraged to satisfy non-technical learning outcomes. However, the incorporation of such components in undergraduateengineering curricula remains challenging due to resource limitations, credit hour crunches, andother issues. This paper presents the design considerations and preliminary results from ourongoing work to create an effective, transferrable, low-overhead approach to paragraph writingexercises suitable for inclusion in any large engineering course. Key considerations in thedevelopment of these exercises include: identification of the motivations and learning outcomesfor each exercise; development and tailoring of writing prompts (questions) appropriate for theseoutcomes; and the development and implementation of an assessment and feedback strategy,including resource-efficient grading rubrics and techniques.Results are reported from the application of the paragraph writing exercise in a large civilengineering undergraduate fluid mechanics course (120 students; approximately 15assignments). A primary focus of this first application centered on two key components thatmust be refined in order for the exercise to be effective and transferrable: (1) the selection ofwriting prompts, and (2) assessment and feedback. Analysis of student paragraphs highlights theimportance of the writing prompts in the success of the exercise, indicating that specific wordchoice, question focus, and supplemental instruction greatly affected the level of writing studentssubmitted. Some writing prompts were selected to address and enhance technical content in thecourse, while other writing prompts were developed to broaden student awareness of engineeringin societal, environmental, and global contexts. In addition to developing productive writingprompts, the assessment and feedback strategies were evaluated using student surveys andfeedback. While minimal marking and holistic rubric assessment methods proved effective froma grading resource standpoint, students were frustrated by the lack of feedback associated withthese techniques and uncomfortable with the holistic grading rubric. Data from student surveyspoint to the importance of giving meaningful feedback to students, and providing them withopportunities to revise their written submissions. Student surveys also highlighted an unforeseenobstacle to the exercise: student resistance to writing in technical courses. We provide severalsuggestions for overcoming student resistance, as well as improved assessment and feedbackstrategies that better meet student needs while still not over-burdening instructors and teachingassistants.

Essig, R. R., & Troy, C. D., & Jesiek, B. K., & Boyd, J., & Buswell, N. T. (2014, June), Adventures in Paragraph Writing: The Development and Refinement of Scalable and Effective Writing Exercises for Large-enrollment Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20032

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015