Asee peer logo

Integrating Technical Writing Into A Large Lecture Course

Download Paper |


2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.774.1 - 9.774.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Mya Poe

author page

Dennis Freeman

Download Paper |

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

Session 1793

Integrating Technical Writing into a Large Lecture Course

Mya Poe* and Dennis M. Freeman+,#

*Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies / +Electrical Engineering and Computer Science / #Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Technical writing was incorporated as an integral part of a large lecture, undergraduate subject in biomedical engineering. The writing component was designed and implemented in a collaboration of technical and writing professionals at MIT, which led to a tight integration of the writing process with two research projects: an experimental project in a wet lab and a theoretical study using computer simulation. For both projects, students worked in pairs to develop a formal proposal and draft a 10-page scientific paper. After receiving substantial feedback from the technical staff, writing staff, and peers, students revised their manuscripts. Comparisons across drafts suggest that peer-review, staff critiques, and the opportunity for revision are all critical to the educational process. Although written feedback is staff intensive, we have found that teaching assistants can be taught to provide excellent feedback, and in so doing, learn an important professional development tool.


Since the 1980's there has been substantial research on the ways writing can improve learning in science and engineering.1 “Writing-to-learn” research has been guided by the theory that language does not merely reflect knowledge, rather knowledge is constructed through language. Perhaps because of this theoretical orientation, writing-to-learn research has focused on informal or expressive modes of communication to promote learning. However, research on the effects of teaching scientific genres of communication has been less well documented.2 In our work, we attempt to understand how learning to write scientific genres of communication can improve the acquisition of technical material. We believe that teaching students a disciplined approach to scientific communication, which includes substantial feedback, has enormous benefits in the learning process. In this project, we describe a 10-year collaboration between MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and MIT's Writing Across the Curriculum Program that has led to important insights into the value of integrating technical and written instruction. During this ten year timeframe, we have attempted various methods of collaboration, including adding a writing workshop to the class and adding an additional technical writing course in biomedical engineering. These efforts, however, were only partially successful for two reasons: (1) students’ schedules are often filled with required courses, so they have little time for non-required courses, and (2) technical content and the writing instruction often do not remain in synch, so it is difficult to keep parity across the two courses. Since 1999

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Poe, M., & Freeman, D. (2004, June), Integrating Technical Writing Into A Large Lecture Course Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13509

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: © 2004 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