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How Engineering Students Learn To Write: Fourth Year Findings And Summary Of The Ut Tyler Engineering Writing Initiative

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Writing Is Fundamental

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.672.1 - 14.672.15

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Paper Authors


David Beams University of Texas, Tyler

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DAVID M. BEAMS is an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Texas at Tyler. He received his BS and MS degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in and the Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has had over 16 years of industrial experience in addition to his 12 years with UT-Tyler. He is a licensed professional engineer in Wisconsin and Texas and holds or shares four patents.

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Luke Niiler University of Alabama

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LUKE NIILER is an Associate Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at the University of Alabama.  He received his BA degree from Gettysburg College and his MA and Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

How Engineering Students Learn to Write: Fourth-Year Findings and Summary of the UT-Tyler Engineering Writing Initiative


The Departments of Electrical Engineering and English of the University of Texas at Tyler have completed the Engineering Writing Initiative (EWI), a four-year longitudinal study investigating how engineering students learn to write, how they apply these skills in their studies, and how instructional practice may be reconfigured to better develop these skills. The questions which formed the charter of EWI were:

≠ What are engineering students’ attitudes, practices and skills with regard to writing, and how do those attitudes, practices and skills develop over time? ≠ Does writing in engineering courses help students become more involved with those courses and understand and apply the ideas of those courses? ≠ How can we incorporate what we learn about students’ attitudes, practices and skills in order to improve our instructional practice with regard to writing?

EWI employed multiple data-gathering methods (semi-annual writing prompts, individual interviews with students, written surveys of students, and student writing samples gathered in portfolios). It employed several assessment strategies (quantitative analyses of student writing samples, quantitative analyses of written surveys, and qualitative analyses of interview transcripts).


Our resolve to assess and address problems endemic to Engineering students’ writing is shared throughout the discipline, a concern that is in part driven by the inclusion of communication as a Program Outcome incorporated into ABET 2000 accreditation standards. Indeed, a literature review of writing assessment related literature since that time reveals a rich array of strategies and solutions. These include formative assessment 1; a plan for the incremental implementation of writing skills instruction in Engineering courses 2; an outcomes assessment 3; the use of written workplace materials in Engineering courses 4,5 ; a review of shared assumptions about writing skills among Engineering faculty 6; a multiple-trait scoring guide 7; and the first three iterations of this longitudinal study 8,9,10. To date, there is no other longitudinal study of Engineering students’ writing skills on record. Our four years of work therefore begins to address this gap in knowledge, and it is hoped that this project will be understood as (a) a description and analysis of trends observed within a single cohort of subjects; and (b) an invitation for other researchers to begin contributing similar work to the field of Engineering education.

Beams, D., & Niiler, L. (2009, June), How Engineering Students Learn To Write: Fourth Year Findings And Summary Of The Ut Tyler Engineering Writing Initiative Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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