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Examining engineering writing instruction at a large research university through the lens of writing studies

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Conference

2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Design, Assessment, and Redesign of Writing Instruction for Engineers

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count

22

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/30467

Download Count

95

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Paper Authors

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John Y. Yoritomo University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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John Yoritomo is a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in the Physics Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on diffuse field ultrasonics, with applications in non-destructive evaluation and seismology. He graduated with a B.S. in physics from the Catholic University of America where his interest in scientific writing began.

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Nicole Turnipseed University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

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Nicole Turnipseed is a PhD student in the Department of English and the Center for Writing Studies. She currently serves as Assistant Director for Center for Writing Studies. She teaches a range of writing courses and works with faculty and teaching assistants across disciplines to help hone their writing pedagogy. Her research and teaching focus on holistic literate development.

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S. Lance Cooper University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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S. Lance Cooper is Professor and Associate Head for Graduate Programs in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He received his B.S. in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1982, his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois in 1988, and he was a postdoctoral research associate at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1988-1990. Cooper’s research interests include optical spectroscopic studies of novel magnetic and superconducting materials at high pressures, high magnetic fields, and low temperatures. Each spring since 2013, Cooper has co-taught (with Celia Elliott) a graduate-level technical writing course, "Communicating Physics Research," to physics and engineering graduate students.

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Celia Mathews Elliott University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Celia Mathews Elliott is a science writer and technical editor in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has been teaching technical communications to upper-level undergraduate physics majors since 2000, and recently developed, with S. Lance Cooper, a graduate technical writing course.

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John R. Gallagher University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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John R. Gallagher is an assistant professor of English. He focuses on writing studies, especially digital writing technologies, audience theory, and interface design. He teaches business and technical writing, technical communication, and rhetoric.

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John S. Popovics University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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John Popovics is a Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from Drexel University and his Ph.D. in Engineering Science and Mechanics from Penn State. His research interests include testing, sensing and imaging of infrastructure and geologic materials. He is also involved in efforts to improve writing skills in engineering students.

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Paul Prior University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Paul Prior is the Director of the Center for Writing Studies and Professor of the Department of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Julie L Zilles University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/https://0000-0001-8684-4519

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Dr. Zilles is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. She received her B.S. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. in Bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin Madison. In addition to research at the intersection of microbiology and environmental engineering, she teaches biological principles of environmental engineering and a graduate level scientific writing class.

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Abstract

Recognizing challenges to developing undergraduate engineering students’ writing, our College of Engineering invited instructional innovation proposals to tackle this issue. Bringing together faculty and graduate students from engineering and writing studies, our team proposed first researching current undergraduate writing instruction in engineering at our large research university. We applied a mixed methods approach, including administering surveys, conducting discourse-based interviews, collecting course documents, and analyzing curricular pathways. Our team also examined best practices found in writing studies research. We found that current writing assignments are rarely well aligned with professional genres, that current writing instruction often does not employ best practices from the writing studies literature, and that departmental curricula do not distribute writing across the four-year programs.

Few genres are currently being taught to students, and these genres tend to be instructional rather than representing genres used by professionals in their fields [1]. Fluency in professional genres is needed for students to develop communication skills within their disciplines and, consequently, their professional identities [2]. Incorporating more professional genres and an awareness of genres in our courses will foster students’ genre flexibility, better preparing them for the workplace.

Our analysis of survey and course materials indicates that writing is viewed primarily as a product, not a process. Our engineering courses rarely facilitate awareness of the operations that lead to a written product, and writing assignments often do not include structured revision or opportunities for students to reflect on their writing processes. We conclude that, to effectively develop students’ writing skills, both instructors and students must shift their principal conception to writing-as-process [3,4], and writing instruction and assignments must embody that concept.

Our analysis also found that engineering instructors’ current response practices often do not incorporate evidence-based practices from writing studies. Many instructors reported inefficient and ineffective response methods, such as line editing. We believe that educating engineering instructors about well-established, more efficient writing studies practices [4,5,6], such as prioritized, selective feedback will benefit both faculty and students.

Survey data and analysis of curricular pathways suggest that writing instruction is sparse and scattered in majors, that some engineering undergraduates may not write within their discipline until their third or fourth year of college, and that some receive little or no disciplinary writing instruction during their entire college career. We argue that writing instruction and practice should be integrated into existing disciplinary courses across all four years of undergraduate instruction [e.g., 7,8].

These findings suggested the potential for substantive improvements. In the second year of our project, we are continuing the research and expanding our community of practice to other engineering faculty who teach courses that have a significant writing component. Specifically, we have organized a weekly working group to learn about and implement effective and scalable practices for writing instruction in engineering. We intend to use this faculty-working-group approach as a basis for implementing vertical integration of writing across all four years in two large test departments.

References

1. S. Conrad, and T. J. Pfeiffer, “Preliminary Analysis of Student and Workplace Writing in Civil Engineering” in 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC, CA, June 26-29, 2011. https://peer.asee.org/18801 2. M. Poe, N. Lerner, and J. Craig, Learning to Communicate in Science and Engineering: Case Studies from MIT. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010. 3. L. Flower, J.R. Hayes, “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing,” College Composition and Communication vol. 32 (4), pp. 365-387, 1981. 4. A. Herrington, “Assignment and Response: Teaching with Writing Across the Disciplines,” in A Rhetoric of Doing: Essays on Written Discourse in Honor of James L. Kinneavy, S. P. Witte, N. Nakadate, and R. D. Cherry, Eds. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992. 244-260. 5. D. Ferris, Response to Student Writing: Implications for Second Language Students. New York: Routledge, 2003. 6. D. Ferris, “Responding to student writing: Teachers’ philosophies and practices.” Assessing Writing, vol. 19 pp. 6-23, 2014. 7. R. S. Harichandran, D. J. Adams, M. A. Collura, N. O. Erdil, W. D. Harding, J. Nocito-Gobel, and A. Thompson, “An Integrated Approach to Developing Technical Communication Skills in Engineering Students” in 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, IN, USA, June 15-18, 2014. https://peer.asee.org/20060 8. V.M. Jovanovic, D. Tombolato-Terzic, D. P. Richards, P. Pazos, M. McKittrick, J. Romberger, and O. Popescu, “Developing a Faculty Learning Community to Support Writing across Different STEM Disciplines” in 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, OH, USA, June 24-28, 2017. https://peer.asee.org/28130

Author List John Y. Yoritomo, Nicole Turnipseed, Ashley Warfield-Oyirifi, S. Lance Cooper, Celia M. Elliott, John R. Gallagher, John S. Popovics, Paul Prior, and Julie L. Zilles

Yoritomo, J. Y., & Turnipseed, N., & Cooper, S. L., & Elliott, C. M., & Gallagher, J. R., & Popovics, J. S., & Prior, P., & Zilles, J. L. (2018, June), Examining engineering writing instruction at a large research university through the lens of writing studies Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30467

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: © 2018 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