June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
24.141.1 - 24.141.24
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.
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