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Enhancing Communication Practices Through Development of a Departmental Civil Engineering Writing Guide

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication Across the Divisions I: Communication in Engineering Disciplines

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.658.1 - 26.658.9



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Paper Authors

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David A. Saftner University of Minnesota Duluth

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Mary U. Christiansen


Adrian T. Hanson University of Minnesota Duluth

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Professor and Department Head in Civil Engineering Department in Swenson College of Science and Engineering at University of Minnesota Duluth. Specialization is Environmental Engineering. 25 years of teaching experience in CE at a graduate and undergraduate level.

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Jill D. Jenson University of Minnesota Duluth

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Jill D. Jenson, Associate Professor in the Department of Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has taught writing for over 25 years. With a research focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning, her articles have appeared in publications such as Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, College Teaching, Business Communication Quarterly, International Journal of ePortfolio, and EDUCAUSE Quarterly. She currently directs the University’s writing center, which provides support to undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and staff. She also works with departments across campus to enhance writing in their programs.

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Sara Ojard

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Rebecca L. Teasley University of Minnesota Duluth

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Emily Woster University of Minnesota Duluth

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Enhancing Communication Practices through Development of a Departmental Civil Engineering Writing GuideThis paper describes the development of a writing guide for a civil engineering department andassessment of student writing prior to implementation of the guide. The writing guide andassessment methods are the result of collaboration between faculty from the civil engineeringand writing studies departments. The partnership of engineering and liberal education facultywas critical in the development of the content and assessment methods used to help preparestudents for professional communication. This paper describes the contents of the writing guideand provides a link to a current version of the guide. Rubric development is also described.Finally, the paper presents the results of writing assessment from the past three semesters prior tointroducing of the writing guide.The writing guide is an ongoing collaborative effort between civil engineering faculty andwriting studies faculty. The initial phase focused on defining the content of the writing guide:reports (labs, projects, etc.), memos, homework submittals, figures, tables, equations,professional e-mails, and references. The second phase was to develop an outline for the gradingrubric; the goal was for the rubrics to be general enough to be adapted by each faculty memberfor a given assignment, but still provide students with a consistent outline to assess their writingprior to submitting it for a grade. The third and final phase determined the level of detail thatwould be included in the writing guide. In order to be useful, the writing guide was madespecific enough for the students to use it to successfully complete writing assignments butgeneral enough to allow individual faculty to adapt assignments toward the specific outcomes ineach course. Above all else, the main goal of the writing guide is to prepare students for realworld written communication. Therefore, it must not leave students with the impression thatthere is a template that can be applied regardless of audience. These concerns were consideredduring the development of the writing guide and will be part of in-class writing instructionwithin both civil engineering and writing courses.Previously written work was assessed using both university and ABET assessment processes.Example work collected as part of these processes from the Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 semesterswas retroactively assessed using the newly developed rubrics. In addition, Fall 2014 work wasassessed as it was submitted. Spring 2015 work will represent the first semester using thedepartment writing guide. Pre-writing guide assessments will be compared to assessments ofwriting after the department guide is introduced. By comparing work over the next several years,senior year writing submittals will be used to determine if a greater level of competency wasachieved by students exposed to the writing guide for their entire undergraduate experience ascompared to students who received the writing guide late in their undergraduate career.

Saftner, D. A., & Christiansen, M. U., & Hanson, A. T., & Jenson, J. D., & Ojard, S., & Teasley, R. L., & Woster, E. (2015, June), Enhancing Communication Practices Through Development of a Departmental Civil Engineering Writing Guide Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23996

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: © 2015 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