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Improving Scientific Writing Capability in an Undergraduate Population Using a Fading Paradigm Scaffolding Approach

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Biomedical Division Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Amelia Spencer Lanier University of Delaware

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Ameila S. Lanier is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biomechanics & Movement Science department at the University of Delaware. She received her M.S. (2012) also in Biomechanics & Movement from the University of Delaware. She recieved her B.S. (2009) in Biomedical Engineering from Washington State University.

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Ashutosh Khandha University of Delaware

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Ashutosh Khandha is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biomedical Engineering program at the University of Delaware, with work experience both in Industry and Academia. In Academia, he has worked as a teaching assistant for multiple courses at the University of Delaware and at the University of Toledo, where he received his Masters in Bioengineering (2004). He also volunteered as the Biomedical Engineering Workshop Instructor at the STEM Expo and Parent Conference held at Glasgow High School in the Christina school district of Delaware (2014).

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Sarah Ilkhanipour Rooney University of Delaware Orcid 16x16

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Sarah I. Rooney is an Assistant Professor in the Biomedical Engineering department at the University of Delaware, where she seeks to bring evidence-based teaching practices to the undergraduate curriculum. She received her B.S.E. (2009) and M.S.E. (2010) in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and her Ph.D. (2015) in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Michael H. Santare University of Delaware


Jill Higginson University of Delaware

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Dr. Higginson is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. She was trained at Cornell University (BS Mechanical Engineering ‘96), Penn State University (MS Bioengineering ‘98), and Stanford University (PhD Mechanical Engineering ‘05). Dr. Higginson has also served as the Director of the Center for Biomechanical Engineering Research, was the founding Director of Biomedical Engineering at UD in 2010 and coordinated the undergraduate academic program through 2013.

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Jenni Buckley University of Delaware

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Dr. Buckley is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of Delaware. She received her Bachelor’s of Engineering (2001) in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Delaware, and her MS (2004) and PhD (2006) in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, where she worked on computational and experimental methods in spinal biomechanics. Since 2006, her research efforts have focused on the development and mechanical evaluation of medical and rehabilitation devices, particularly orthopaedic, neurosurgical, and pediatric devices. She teaches courses in design, biomechanics, and mechanics at University of Delaware and is heavily involved in K12 engineering education efforts at the local, state, and national levels.

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The Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology (ABET) requires that engineering students graduate with “an ability to communicate effectively”1, hence the need for problem based learning approaches that also foster scientific writing skills. This need is typically met through student hands-on experiences and follow-up laboratory reports. Research indicates science concept understanding improves with the use of unstructured context maps and that writing-to-learn practices can greatly improve student learning and engagement but are lacking in STEM 2,3,4. To address these findings we developed a fading paradigm scaffolding approach to maximize engineering students’ communications skills. Our goal is to increase the writing capability of undergraduates to a level of graduate students by utilizing a fading paradigm scaffolding approach where writing templates become less structured over time. We hypothesize that this approach will increase writing ability over the course of one semester for all undergraduates and by the end of one semester, undergraduates will write at a level comparable to entry-level graduate students.


Bioengineering Mechanics I is a junior level course for biomedical engineers (BME), whereas Orthopaedic Biomechanics is a cross-listed course for both senior level mechanical engineers (ME) and graduate students from a variety of backgrounds including biomechanics, BME, and ME. Both courses take place over a 14-week semester (Fall 2012-2015). In both courses students complete four lab exercises. Each lab explores different concepts in statics, mechanics of materials, and orthopaedic biomechanics. Depending on level of study, undergraduate versus graduate, the lab write-up portion varied. For all labs, graduate students received an abstract formatting template with only subheadings. For the first two labs, undergraduate students received a template with a completed Introduction and Methods section requiring students to write the results and conclusion sections in the context of the provided introduction and methods. For the last two labs, undergraduate students received the same templates as the graduate students, forcing students to develop all sections of the abstract.


Writing samples for all labs and all students will be used for evaluation. To evaluate writing skills, 4 instructors will complete writing assessments of completed abstracts, blinded to both group and time point. Writing samples will be assessed using a rubric based on a compilation of grading schemes used by different professional societies (BMES, CSM, GCMAS). Writing scores from each time point for both groups will evaluate writing quality changes over time. Because the scaffolding changes throughout the semester this assessment will only include the results and conclusion sections. We will additionally compare final lab write up scores (Lab #4) from undergraduates to initial lab write up scores (Lab #1) of graduate students to determine if our approach results in entry level graduate student writing quality for the undergraduates. This assessment will include all sections of the abstract (Introduction, Methods, Results, & Conclusion). These assessments will be used to identify potential writing mechanisms that can be used to develop strong writing skills.

References 1. Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology. (2015). ABET. Retrieved from Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs 2015-2016: 2. Patterson, EW. “Structuring the composition process in scientific writing.” International Journal of Science Education. 23(1):1-6. 2001. 3. Reynolds, J., Thaiss, C., Katkin, W., and Thompson, R., “Writing to Learn in Undergraduate Science Education: A Community-Based, Conceptually Driven Approach.” CBE-Life Sciences Education, 11:17-25, 2012. 4. Naitonal Advisory Board. (2008). National Survery of Student Engagement. Retrieved from:

Lanier, A. S., & Khandha, A., & Rooney, S. I., & Santare, M. H., & Higginson, J., & Buckley, J. (2016, June), Improving Scientific Writing Capability in an Undergraduate Population Using a Fading Paradigm Scaffolding Approach Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25626

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