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Design and Implementation of a Course in Experimental Design and Technical Writing

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Division for Experimentation & Lab-oriented Studies Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies

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Paper Authors


Natasha Smith P.E. University of Virginia

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Dr. Smith is an Associate Professor at the University of Virginia.

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Andrew Jason Hill University of Southern Indiana

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Jason Hill is an associate professor of engineering at the University of Southern Indiana. He holds B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in civil engineering from Tennessee Technological University. His research interests include rainfall-runoff modeling and wetland hydrology.

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Tom McDonald University of Southern Indiana

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Tom McDonald is an Associate Professor in the Engineering Department at the University of Southern Indiana. He serves as the Director for the MS Industrial Management Program. He earned his BSIE and MSIE degrees in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University and his PhD in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech.
His research and teaching interests primarily include lean manufacturing, discrete event simulation and modeling, and engineering economy. Tom has been involved in lean manufacturing and modeling of production lines since 1999.

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This paper describes the development, implementation, and refinement of a sophomore level laboratory course entitled “Experimental Design and Technical Writing.” The course was created to meet multiple objectives for a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) program at []. First, stakeholders on the program advisory board affirmed the importance and need for improvement in the communication skills of early career engineers. They expressed a desire for employees to excel with various formats of written memoranda and reports and to have the ability to comfortably deliver formal and informal oral presentations. Second, the prior curriculum lacked any courses in the sophomore year with a significant experiential learning component. Experiential learning is a highly valued component of the program with a positive effect on student retention and success. Outcome assessment activities had also identified a need to cover ethics during the sophomore year. Finally, in 2014, the university revamped the general education curriculum required for all bachelor degree programs; a component of the new curriculum requires students have two “Writing Intensive” embedded experience courses, the first of which is intended to be at a sophomore level, after they have completed two English composition courses.

The format of the course is a one hour lecture and a two hour laboratory per week, worth 2 credit hours. Small section sizes (16 students) allow the instructor ample time to provide detailed reviews of student writing. The course content includes experimental methods, design, and technical writing. The experimental methods component includes measurement error, calibration, experimental uncertainty propagation, and statistical analysis of data. This content was designed around five modules. For the first module, students complete experiments that involve constructing model truss bridges using PASCO equipment (truss sets and force sensors). Students measure axial force under different loading conditions and compare to estimates based on simplified truss calculations. The writing component consists of a full engineering report and a formal business letter. Detailed guidance on the writing component is provided by the instructor, including multiple reviews of student submissions. The second module focuses on experimental uncertainty, with two experiments involving volumetric discharge measurement and the modulus of elasticity of balsa wood. The objective is to introduce formal methods for uncertainty propagation. Students are expected to write an executive summary for these experiments. A third module focuses on two ethics case studies, one provided by the instructor and another selected by the students. Two essay style writing assignments are completed by the students. The final experiment is completed for module four and consists of thrust and impulse for a pressurized air rocket. Student teams are expected to write another full engineering report, but with limited guidance from the instructor. The final module is focused on oral presentations. Student teams deliver an oral presentation for one of the earlier modules in the course. The course culminates with submission of the final report. This paper will include additional details on the course modules, student perceptions of the course, and an assessment of student learning.

Smith, N., & Hill, A. J., & McDonald, T. (2018, June), Design and Implementation of a Course in Experimental Design and Technical Writing Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30259

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