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Assessing Writing In A Comprehensive Design Experience Course

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Assessing Design Course Work

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.252.1 - 14.252.11



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Paper Authors


Rhonda Young University of Wyoming

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Rhonda Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Young received her doctorate in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington in 2002. Prior to a career in academics she worked for 11 years as a consultant in the transportation field. Her research interests are in transportation planning and intelligent transportation systems. Dr. Young teaches a wide variety of courses in the transportation field including the Comprehensive Design Experience course.

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April Heaney University of Wyoming

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April Heaney is the Director of the LeaRN program and a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Wyoming. She received her Master of Arts in English and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Secondary Education and English from the University of Wyoming. Her research interest include how students learn best in writing, reading, and research-focused classes. The LeaRN program at the University of Wyoming has a mission to initiate, coordinate, and assess services and programs that support student success, especially in lower division courses. April is also affiliated with the Synergey porgram, which is a learning community for first-year students.

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James Kladianos Wyoming Department of Transportation

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James Kladianos is the squad leader for the Laramie Design Squad, a cooperative educational unit operated by the Wyoming Department of Transportation in conjunction with the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering at the University of Wyoming. Dr. Kladianos received his doctorate degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wyoming in 2002. Jim also is a part time lecturer with the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and teaches courses in transportation engineering including the Comprehensive Design Experience course.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

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.

Young, R., & Heaney, A., & Kladianos, J. (2009, June), Assessing Writing In A Comprehensive Design Experience Course Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4885

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: © 2009 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