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Evaluation of a Technical Writing Program Implemented in a First-year Engineering Design Course

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Contextual Competencies

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.588.1 - 25.588.14



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Paper Authors


Christel Heylen Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven

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Christel Heylen obtained her master's of science in materials engineering in June 2000 and the academic teacher training degree in 2004, both from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium). She is a member of the Tutorial Services of the engineering faculty and is responsible for the implementation and daily coordination of the course Problem Solving and Engineering Design in the first year of the bachelor's of engineering program at the Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven, with a special focus on the didactic interpretation. Regarding this subject, she obtained a Ph.D. in engineering in Aug. 2010 from the Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven. She is a member of LESEC (Leuven Engineering and Science Education Centre).

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Jos Vander Sloten Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven

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Evaluation of a Technical Writing Program Implemented in a First Year Engineering Design CourseIntroduction. A typical engineer can spend up to half of his work-day on writing. Masteringthese technical writing skills is important, but difficult for first year engineering students.Leaving secondary school, freshmen are not familiar with common technical writing style orbest practices. They tend to write their by using a journal-type style. Often they do not proofread their manuscripts and forget about feedback on previous reports. Therefore theEngineering Faculty implemented an intensive technical writing program within the first yeardesign course. This paper describes a study that was performed to evaluate this program.The implemented technical writing program. In the first year engineering program, whichis common for all engineering disciplines, a technical writing program is implemented withinthe project-based design course ‘Problem Solving and Engineering Design’. By embeddingthe program within a design course, the writing assignments are meaningful for the studentsand the contents of the reports matter as well as the writing style. A mixture of teaching andassessment methods was developed to gradually improve students’ technical writing skills.Subsequent assignments force the students to reflect upon the basic writing principles and tolearn from their previous mistakes. The program consists of consecutive cycles of instructionwith clear guidelines about writing style, learning by doing and reflection on receivedfeedback. Furthermore, an interactive lecture using clicking devices is implemented, togetherwith a peer review assignment. Literature shows that peer review can be very effective toimprove student writing.Staff involved in the evaluation and feedback process, use a checklist that summarizes thedesired writing abilities. This ensures they use the same evaluation norms and it makes thegrading more easily. Table 1 gives an overview of the assignments, indicating the number ofstudents that work together and details about the instructions and evaluation process.Evaluation method. To study the efficacy of the implemented writing program, survey datawas gathered. At the end of the first year (from 2003 until 2011), all 300 to 400 studentsenrolled in the design course, filled out an extensive questionnaire consisting of Likert-typeclosed statements and open-ended questions. The writing program was then evaluated byitem analysis of the statements, examination of the open-ended questions and interviews withthe staff involved.Conclusions. Overall, the didactic staff involved, as well as the students, is enthusiastic aboutthe approach. Because of the large number of students enrolled in the course (about 400 eachacademic year), the staff really appreciates the use of the checklist with desired writingabilities. The students most appreciated the peer review process. Furthermore they agree thatthe clicking devices, made them think actively about their writing skills during the lecture.The current academic year, the study will be completed by adding detailed information aboutthe evolution of the students’ grades. Furthermore the students themselves will be encouragedto keep track of the evolution of their technical writing skills by summarizing receivedfeedback in their portfolio.Table 1. Overview of subsequent assignments within the first year engineering program to ensure that all students learn to write technical reports. Number of Instruc- Focus of Assignment Timing students Graded Feedback tions feedback working togetherduction Intro- Literature Beginning of Written by Writing 2 Written Yes (2 pages) semester 1 didactic team style End of team Project WritingTeam project project, Written by Semester 1 report 8 Written Yes style and halfway didactic team (6 pages) content semester 1 Revised End of project report 8 Oral Yes No feedback No semester 1 (6 pages) Concept Interactive Written peer report design Beginning of lecture and review by 8 WritingTeam design project 8 No project semester 2 written individual style Semester 2 (3 pages) instructions students Intermediate Writing Halfway Written by design report 8 Written Yes style and semester 2 didactic team (12 pages) content Final design Oral after Writing End of report 8 Written Yes final design style and semester 2 (12 pages) presentation content

Heylen, C., & Vander Sloten, J. (2012, June), Evaluation of a Technical Writing Program Implemented in a First-year Engineering Design Course Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21345

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