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Improving The Quality Of Senior Design Project Reports

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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

Design Communications

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.720.1 - 13.720.19



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Paper Authors

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Edward Lumsdaine Michigan Technological University


Monika Lumsdaine E&M Lumsdaine Solar Consultants, Inc.

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Monika Lumsdaine is management consultant for corporate behavior and president of her own company. She won a national design award for a passive solar house plan from DOE/HUD. She has extensive technical writing experience in solar energy, product quality, and engineering design. She is certified in the administration and interpretation of the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) and conducts team building workshops in industry, business, and educational institutions. She assisted in the 2007/2008 capstone design course as a technical writer as well as the HBDI practitioner/evaluator for project team formation and monitoring. Contact info:

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

Improving the Quality of Senior Design Project Reports


The ME-EM Design Committee at Michigan Tech recommended in early 2007 that the capstone design course emphasize that student teams produce quality project reports. This paper presents the steps taken during fall 2007 to meet this objective. Several problems were addressed: • Class size: A total of 106 traditional capstone design students were signed up for the class; they were organized into 21 project teams for two semesters, producing 63 reports. Shortly before the start of the class, 42 mechanical engineering seniors in the enterprise program were added for one semester. These students were not part of project teams with classmates and thus were anticipated to generate 126 additional reports—a logistics nightmare. • Unfamiliar thinking skills: The thinking styles assessment of the entire class showed they had a low average in the thinking preferences required for communication and teamwork. Thus learning how to write good reports would require extra effort by the students. • Expectations: Many of the enterprise students did not see the need for having to take this class, since they had already been involved in their enterprises for two or three years and believed they knew how to write reports. Other students expected this to be an easy course. Both sets of expectations affected their attitude towards learning, applying the design tools taught, and communicating the results.

The three required project reports—project proposal, progress report, and end-of term report— were evaluated as follows: (a) The class instructor checked that the design tools and models taught in the course were applied correctly; (b) The project advisors evaluated the technical merit and progress of the project work; (c) A technical writer was hired to edit the writing, check for correct format, and verify that students implemented the suggested revisions.

The addition of the enterprise students provided an unplanned control group and revealed different results for report grades based on writing, format, and use of design tools: Type of Report Enterprise: Average, Range Capstone: Average, Range Project Proposal 93% 76-100 92% 80-98 Progress Report 80% 50-102 89% 73-98 End-of-Term Report 82% 60-98 90% 84-96

Two factors of concern were identified: (1) about half the capstone project teams did not apply adequate engineering analysis to their designs; (2) many students in the class did not read and follow instructions for preparing and revising their reports or use outside sources of information. It was discovered that the presence on the capstone design project teams of at least one student with strong preferences of thinking skills required for communication and teamwork correlated with higher report grades. Other conclusions and recommendations include: providing a technical writer (and report templates); just-in-time teaching and application of design tools; building the skills needed for conceptual design and open-ended problem solving in the engineering curriculum in stages over four years; and having a departmental panel review the end-of-term reports and require additional work for removing deficiencies before giving a go/no go recommendation to the instructor to allow the teams to continue with their project.

Lumsdaine, E., & Lumsdaine, M. (2008, June), Improving The Quality Of Senior Design Project Reports Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3642

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