June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Design in Engineering Education
14.252.1 - 14.252.11
Assessing Writing in a Comprehensive Design Experience Course
Comprehensive design courses, also called capstone or senior design courses, serve an important role in most engineering curricula. These courses can be challenging for both the student and instructor because of their breadth and open-ended nature. As the need for effective communication skills among engineering graduates grows, emphasis on strengthening writing feedback and assessment throughout the curriculum also increases. The capstone course typically involves a significant amount of writing and is another opportunity for faculty to provide writing feedback to the students. The challenge is in successfully fitting an increased focus on writing and the writing process into a course whose list of learning objectives is already lengthy. Maintaining the technical and design aspects of the course is essential, but programs should also strive to maximize the potential for thoughtful writing assessment that can significantly help the students develop as writers. This paper uses several years of experience from a comprehensive design experience (CDE) course, taught in the Civil and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Wyoming, as the basis of discussion on methods for integrating writing feedback and assessment into a capstone design course. The CDE course requires writing a design proposal and a final design report. Throughout the last five years different methods for helping students develop writing skills and assessing writing have been implemented; this paper provides issues to consider and strategies for instructors of similar courses.
Comprehensive design courses, also referred to as capstone or senior design courses, are found in most engineering curriculum and are targeted toward helping students transition from structured coursework into open-ended, design problems more typical of those they will encounter after graduation. These types of courses are often multi-disciplinary and team oriented. These aspects of the course make it a challenging experience for both the students and the instructors. Learning objectives for design courses are often extensive and include understanding the design process, integrating technical knowledge across multiple disciplines, practicing teamwork, and interpreting data.
At the same time that design courses have become increasingly common in engineering curriculum, there has also been an increased emphasis on improving the communication skills of graduating engineers. Numerous surveys of employers of engineering graduates have stressed the importance of these skills1,2,3. Engineering departments have responded in a variety of ways including increasing the number of required writing courses and integrating writing into existing courses. Comprehensive design courses are another opportunity for engineering students to develop their writing skills, but the challenge becomes effectively integrating writing objectives into a course that is already full of other learning objectives.
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