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Helping Students Write It Right: Instilling Good Report-writing Habits in a Linear Circuit Lab Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Improvements in ECE Circuit Analysis

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Eva Cosoroaba University of Vermont

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Eva Cosoroaba is a lecturer in the Electrical and Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Vermont. She received her PhD form the University of Texas at Dallas in December of 2017. Cosoroaba was a research assistant in the Renewable Energy and Vehicular Technology (REVT) Laboratory and a teaching assistant at UT Dallas. Her expertise lies in electric machines and design, multiphysics simulations, and magnetohydrodynamics and its possible use for emission free power generation. Dr Cosoroaba's current research interest is engineering education with focus on mastery learning, the effect of social networks in the classroom on student learning and efficient implementation of active learning.

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Writing is often not on the top of student’s priority list when it comes to their laboratory experience. This is reflected in the quality of the lab reports they submit. When grading and providing feedback to students on these reports, the instructor often gets slowed down and disconcerted by a lack of consideration for formatting, a convention crucial to effective written communication. This can manifest in results without context and data figures with no legends (rendering both meaningless) or lack of section subtitles or paragraph structure. An often seen symptom is a result comparisons comprised of placing two figures next to each other with no quantification or written summary of differences. The instructor is left to wonder if these manifestations are symptoms of carelessness or of fundamental misconceptions related to the course content.

In Fall 2018, the sophomore level “Linear Circuits Analysis Laboratory 1” course adopted a version of “Specifications Grading”, as outlined in Linda Nelson’s book of the same title. The main goal of this teaching and grading intervention was to raise the quality of student writing. Additionally, it was anticipated that this type of grading would instill good writing habits for follow up lab courses and provide more transparency and consistency in grading.

Specifications grading is a grading system that focuses on mastery in learning. This means that less weight is placed on the students’ ability to prove their competency at a specified moment in time. Instead, mastery of this competency is built by completing assignments that repeatedly practice the skill. Specifications grading was adapted to this lab course as follows: Students were provided a list of clear specifications (“specs”) for each assignment, which doubled as a rubric, and they were allowed to submit revisions of reports. Assignments were graded Satisfactory Quality (SQ) or Not Satisfactory Quality (NSQ) with one missed spec resulting in a NSQ report. At the end of the semester, the number of SQ reports determined students’ grade on the report component of the lab, which made up a third of their overall course grade.

The results of this teaching and grading intervention were assessed qualitatively through review of the submitted reports, comparing them to the quality of the previous year’s reports as well as a survey given to the students at the end of the semester. From an instructor perspective, using specifications grading has had the hoped effects. It improved report quality and provided transparency and consistency in grading. Students surveyed largely acknowledged that specifications grading pushed them to be more attentive to requirements and that it raised the quality of their work. However, they also reported drawbacks.

The final version of this paper will provide the specs used for the reports as well as describe how students could earn more report revisions. Furthermore, a detailed discussion of the themes found in the survey as well as changes made to the 2019 offering of this course based on the 2018 experience, will be included.

Cosoroaba, E. (2020, June), Helping Students Write It Right: Instilling Good Report-writing Habits in a Linear Circuit Lab Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34723

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