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Implementing Informal Writing Assignments And A Feedback And Revision Loop To Enhance Learning In Engineering Courses

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Writing and Portfolios

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.709.1 - 13.709.9



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Paper Authors


Warren Hull Louisiana State University

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Warren R. Hull, Sr. is the Engineering Communications Coordinator at Louisiana State University. He earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Louisiana State University and an M.S. in Environmental Health from Harvard University. His engineering career spans nearly 40 years. He is a licensed Professional Engineer who was previously an engineering consultant, and is also a retired military officer.

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Warren Waggenspack Louisiana State University

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Warren N. Waggenspack, Jr. is currently the Associate Dean for Engineering Undergraduates and holder of the Ned Adler Professorship in Mechanical Engineering at Louisiana State University. He obtained both his baccalaureate and master's degrees from LSU ME and his doctorate from Purdue University's School of Mechanical Engineering. He has been actively engaged in teaching, research and curricula development since joining the faculty in 1988. He currently serves as Co-Director of the Education and Outreach program with LSU’s NSF-EPSCoR Center for Bio-Modular Multi-Scale Systems (CBM2) and is responsible for the development and implementation of several of the centers K-12 and public outreach programs.

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Lillian B Bowles Louisiana State University

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Lillian Bridwell-Bowles is a Professor of English at Louisiana State University and Director of Communication across the Curriculum (CxC). She received her baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Florida State University and her doctorate from the University of Georgia. She has worked with communication in various fields for 23 years, led a number of successful grants on communication in technical fields, and served as the Chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. She was previously a member of the faculty at the University of Minnesota.

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Jennifer Farrell Louisiana State University

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Jennifer Kelso Farrell is a Technical Communication Instructor in the Engineering Communication Studio at Louisiana State University. She earned a baccalaureate in English from the University of Montana, a master's degree of English from Montana State University, and a PhD in English from Louisiana State University.

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David Bowles Louisiana State University

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David Bowles is a Technical Communication Instructor in the Engineering Communication Studio at Louisiana State University. He earned a baccalaureate degree in English and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a former assistant editor of Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts, and his writing has appeared in a variety of magazines, including River Oak Review, Rainbow Curve, and Red Rock Review.

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

Implementing Informal Writing Assignments and a Written Feedback and Revision Loop to Enhance Learning in Engineering Courses Abstract

Several studies have shown that two methods enhance student learning in courses requiring written assignments. The first, informal writing, is an exercise that encourages students to “think on paper” (or perhaps more often, “think on a screen”). Fundamental to this exercise is learning to record observations, interpret data, and document the solutions to problems. The second method requires that students receive feedback on formal assignments they have submitted. The student is then required to revise the assignment using this feedback and then resubmit for grading. While both of these methods are well proven enhancements to the leaning process, they have historically been shunned by engineering faculty.

At our university, a campus-wide program for integrating communication requirements into various curricula has had success in overcoming faculty and student resistance to these and other teaching methods not typically found in the engineering disciplines. The Communication Across the Curriculum (CxC) Program uses workshops, Summer Faculty Institutes, discipline-specific communication studios, and an online searchable database to assist faculty in the development and implementation of innovative assignments to build students’ communication skills. Incorporating these two learning techniques for written assignments was found to be most challenging in Capstone and laboratory courses; therefore, examples of successful implementation in each are presented. Workload impact was found to be minimal when the faculty member had obtained tools at a CxC workshop or institute and also took advantage of the Engineering Communication Studio resources. Student acceptance was documented via course-end questionnaires and selected focus groups. Both assessment approaches have yielded consistently positive student responses. Other assessment methods are in development, but early indicators are encouraging.

Introduction. In most composition classrooms, informal writing techniques and revision strategies have long been accepted as effective for improving student writing. Broadly, informal writing is risk-free (not graded and does not follow specific conventions) writing that is designed to aid the student thinking and learning process. Informal writing takes many forms: listing, freewriting, journaling, and even doodling. Ultimately, informal writing is a place where the writing process begins. When informal writing is applied to a larger assignment, it may also be referred to as generative writing or prewriting since its goal is to generate ideas for and approaches to a larger project. Conversely, formal writing is writing that must follow conventional forms and is usually graded for grammar, form, and correctness. It is the product of a writing process.

As the teaching of writing has expanded beyond English departments, settled strategies for the teaching of writing have slowly made their way into classes across the curriculum. Writing across the Curriculum (WAC) programs owe much to James Britton’s The Development of Writing Abilities1, in which he not only coined the phrase “Writing across the Curriculum” but also discussed the role informal writing should take in the teaching of writing Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process2 expanded on Britton’s work, focusing on the need to teach the entire writing process, including revision and editing techniques.

Hull, W., & Waggenspack, W., & Bowles, L. B., & Farrell, J., & Bowles, D. (2008, June), Implementing Informal Writing Assignments And A Feedback And Revision Loop To Enhance Learning In Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3398

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: © 2008 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