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Improving The Writing Evaluation Abilities Of Graduate Teaching Assistants In Ece Labs

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Writing and Communication I

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.734.1 - 10.734.6



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Paper Authors

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Bill Chapman

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John Brocato

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Jim Harden

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

Improving the Writing-Evaluation Abilities of Graduate Teaching Assistants in ECE Labs

John Brocato, Jim Harden, Bill Chapman Mississippi State University


In 1999, faculty in the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University began a project to improve the writing-evaluation skills of graduate teaching assistants (TAs) in charge of undergraduate laboratories in electrical and computer engineering (ECE). Long considered valuable for discipline-specific undergraduate writing experiences, undergraduate laboratories have also proven problematic due to the large gaps between sound writing-instruction pedagogy, the standards and expectations of engineering faculty members for their students’ written work, and the actual writing instruction/grading provided by lab TAs, many of whom neither speak nor write English as their first language.

This project began by using writing tutors – who were already assisting ECE faculty and students with existing writing assignments – to work with lab TAs on the quality and consistency of their lab-report grading. This tutor support led to the idea of a screening exam whereby prospective TAs could demonstrate their level of proficiency at grading certain writing elements in a sample lab report. Results from early exam administrations showed the need for further TA support both before and after the exam as well as ongoing performance evaluations, which eventually led to a writing-centered TA workshop as well as the development of online remediation materials. Finally, suggestions from ECE faculty that TAs enroll in some type of writing course to help them with their lab duties resulted in the development of an ESL writing/speaking course partially focusing on issues relevant to ECE.

This paper discusses the project stages outlined above, presents and discusses data collected after two before-and-after exam administrations, and addresses ongoing changes to the project based on collected data and evaluated TA performance.

Writing Tutor Support

Though the ECE department had used writing tutors for several semesters prior to the start of this project, the tutors’ role had only consisted of working individually with ECE students on writing assignments. The idea, however, of assisting graduate TAs with grading written work led both the department and the college’s Shackouls Technical Communication Program (TCP, of which the tutoring program is a thrust) to modify tutoring duties to include guidance and mentoring for ECE graduate TAs.

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Chapman, B., & Brocato, J., & Harden, J. (2005, June), Improving The Writing Evaluation Abilities Of Graduate Teaching Assistants In Ece Labs Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15435

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