Asee peer logo

Developing Writing To Learn Assignments For The Engineering Statics Classroom

Download Paper |


2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Writing and Communication II

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.420.1 - 9.420.13



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

James Hanson

author page

Julia Williams

Download Paper |

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

Session 1274 Developing Writing-to-Learn Assignments for the Engineering Statics Classroom James H. Hanson, Department of Civil Engineering Julia Williams, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Abstract Research in engineering pedagogy has argued for the efficacy of writing as a means to improving student learning in the engineering classroom. Unfortunately there are few models of such assignments. This project, the result of cooperation between faculty in civil engineering and technical communication, was based on a simple approach: the authors asked students to describe the steps they used to set up and solve engineering statics homework problems. As the assignment template stated, “the goal of this course is for students to understand the material, not just to plug numbers into equations. An effective way to demonstrate understanding of the material is to describe how you use it.” During the ten-week course, students were asked to articulate the thought processes they used to solve problems so their work would be comprehensible to others. This strategy models, the authors believe, engineering workplace practice; they believe it is a distinct advantage if students can articulate their thought process clearly and concisely when working with other engineers. In this paper, the authors share the assignment template they developed and discuss the evaluation rubric that the instructor used to grade assignments. The authors also identify the learning outcomes specified for the assignment and show how student writing correlated to their performance in the course. Finally they discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the Writing-to-Learn approach in the engineering classroom.

Introduction This project began with the premise that asking students to write is a means to improve what they learn in the engineering classroom. The premise is not new; advocates of the Writing-to- Learn approach have argued for the incorporation of writing in courses outside of the traditional sites for writing instruction.1-3 As a result, Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines programs have been created at universities across the country. While the Writing-to- Learn approach is generally supported, the particular assignments that could represent such an effort are often difficult to obtain. In the case of engineering education, furthermore, the case must often be made that devoting time to writing, time taken away from instruction in technical content, will produce significant improvement in students’ understanding.

The Writing-to-Learn approach to which the authors subscribe differentiates itself from a Writing-to-Communicate approach. When engineering educators consider adding writing to a technical course, they frequently believe the best option is to add a formal report, proposal, or series of memos to an existing course. While added formal writing is beneficial to students, the drawbacks include increased instructor evaluation effort and a degree of distinction in the minds of students between their technical work and the writing (which is sometimes looked upon as an

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Hanson, J., & Williams, J. (2004, June), Developing Writing To Learn Assignments For The Engineering Statics Classroom Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12889

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: © 2004 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