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Grading Lab Reports Effectively: Using Rubrics Developed Collaboratively By Ece And Technical Writing Instructors

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Effective & Efficient Teaching Skills

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.669.1 - 11.669.17



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Paper Authors


Alexis Powe Mississippi State University

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Alexis Powe is an instructor in the Mississippi State University Bagley College of Engineerins Shackouls Technical Communication Program, where she teaches Technical Writing. She received her BA in English from MSU in 2002 and her MA in English from Louisiana State University in 2004. She previously served as a composition lecturer for the MSU Department of English. Her professional memberships include ASEE and MLA (Modern Language Association).
Address: Box 9544, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, 39762; telephone: (662) 325-4240; fax: (662) 325-7183; e-mail:

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Jane Moorhead Mississippi State University

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Jane Moorhead is an instructor at Mississippi State University in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. She has taught Digital Devices and Logic Design, Microprocessors and Introduction to ECE. She received her BS in EE from North Carolina State University and her MS in Computer Engineering from MSU. She previously worked for IBM as a design engineer in communications products as well as in speech recognition research. Her professional memberships include ASEE and IEEE.
Address: Box 9571, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, 39762; telephone: (662) 325-2096; fax: (662) 325-2298; e-mail:

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Grading Lab Reports Effectively: Using Rubrics Developed Collaboratively by ECE and Technical Writing Instructors


This paper describes a collaboration between a sophomore/junior-level lab component in an electrical and computer engineering (ECE) course and a junior-level technical writing course within the Mississippi State University Bagley College of Engineering’s Shackouls Technical Communication Program (TCP). Grading for labs with weekly writing assignments poses challenges previously overlooked by collaborations between ECE and the TCP. Since lengthy reports are required weekly for the Digital Devices and Logic Design (ECE 3714) lab component, grade turnaround must be quick and can become extremely burdensome for teaching assistants, many of whom struggle with writing themselves due to lack of confidence or ESL challenges. This collaboration differs from other ECE-TCP collaborations significantly in that it utilizes a lab-grading system that combines traditional, non-quantitative rubrics and set penalties for mechanical/stylistic errors to expedite the grading process while retaining grading reliability among TAs. Five specific areas have been defined within each rubric to make up the total percentage of the grade, with the point values changing to reflect the focus of each lab. Topics discussed include an overview of analytic versus holistic grading and the rationale behind the authors’ grading approach, previous ECE-TCP collaborations, the combined rubric-set penalties grading system for ECE 3714 with sample grading materials provided, quantitative and qualitative assessments of the newly implemented grading approach, and potential pitfalls of the authors’ grading approach.

Keywords: analytic grading, collaboration, ECE, holistic grading, inter-rater reliability, technical writing

I. Introduction

Engineering educators are under increasing pressure from administrations, Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) programs, writing educators, and industry to incorporate more writing into their classrooms. They rarely debate the need to improve engineering students’ written (and oral) communication skills, the benefits of which are well documented. Perhaps the most important skill writing fosters in students is critical thinking. As Wheeler and McDonald state, “Writing, like teaching, forces one to think—hard!”1 However, new educators—both those taking over classes already firmly established by more senior faculty and those creating new classes—struggle to incorporate writing into their classrooms and, even more challenging, to grade that writing effectively. Pappas and Hendricks state, “The problem is not that engineering faculty members fail to value good writing and speaking; the problem is that they are not trained to teach or evaluate these subjects.”2 Developing an effective—and efficient—grading approach is particularly difficult for new educators who lack confidence in their evaluation abilities or those of their teaching assistants (to whom the grading often falls). Meanwhile, technical writing educators constantly seek to reinforce the importance of writing to students outside of the writing class. Both interests, and ultimately those of students, are served when educators from various engineering departments work with technical writing educators to develop a grading system that provides specific grading criteria for the grader(s) to ensure grading consistency,

Powe, A., & Moorhead, J. (2006, June), Grading Lab Reports Effectively: Using Rubrics Developed Collaboratively By Ece And Technical Writing Instructors Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--856

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