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Introducing Memo Writing and a Design Process: A Five-week Simulator Project

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD VI: Presenting "All the Best" of the First-year Programs Division

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.845.1 - 25.845.17



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Paper Authors


S. Scott Moor Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne

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Scott Moor is an Associate Professor of engineering and Coordinator of First-year Engineering at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. He received a B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering from MIT. After more than a decade in industry, he returned to academia at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received a Ph.D. in chemical engineering and an M.A. in statistics. He is a registered Professional Chemical Engineer in California. His research interests include engineering education with an emphasis on developing and testing educational materials and learning spaces that stimulate serious play.

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Introducing Memo Writing and a Design Process - A Four-Week Simulator ProjectAn introductory activity was developed where students carry out a project using an online paperairplane flight simulator. Over several weeks they are walked through stages of a simple designprocess and introduced to writing different portions of a technical memo report. This allowsthem to develop initial background in both a disciplined design process and in documenting adesign process.Writing can be used to help our students develop their thinking and their discipline. Brent andFelder1 note that “The process of writing and thinking are fundamentally and powerfully linked.”For more than twenty five years the Writing-Across-the-Curriculum pedagogical movement hasexplored and developed ways to use writing with in various courses throughout the curriculum.They have also included longer Writing-in-the-Disciplines approaches such as this case of designreports where students are specifically learning the writing conventions of their particulardiscipline.2Elbow3 argues that it is often particularly helpful to assign low stakes writing, using assignmentswhere the level of critique and the grading weight are low. He notes that “Writing feels like aninherently high stakes activity.”4 The particularly assignment sequence presented here allowsthis type of lower stakes writing to take place.The carrying out and documenting a design process are naturally linked. They are a commonactivity for first year students. It is important to for these students to begin to develop somediscipline in their design and particularly to understand the importance of the initial problemformulation stages of a project. Atman, et. al.4 have observed that one of the key differencesbetween inexperienced student designers and experienced professional designers is the amountof time and care spent in the project scoping phase.The strategy for this project is to move students through a project and a writing processconsisting of manageable segments and clear guidelines. Throughout there is a focus on creatingfigures and tables to present the basic story and then using narrative to connect and explain thesevisual items. Class time includes significant time spent on small group activities. Students areintroduced to the design process from the text by Voland.5 They work through both in-classroomactivities and homework assignments in problem familiarization, problem definition, strategydevelopment and presentation, presenting results with graphs and tables, and preparingconclusions and recommendations. Students are provided with specific forms and guidelines tohelp them develop good practices. Rubrics are used to make the specific requirements clear andto assess student progress.This paper includes presentation of the classroom activities, the out of class assignments, andrubrics used for this project.References:1. Brent, R. and R. Felder, “Writing Assignments – Pathways to Connections, Clarity, Creativity,” College Teaching 40(1), 43-47 (1992).2. Romberger, J., “Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines,” Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL),, (2000) accessed December 2006.3. Elbow, P., “High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and Responding to Writing,” New Directions in Teaching and Learning, 69, p 5-13, (Spring 1997).4. Atman, C. J., R. S. Adams, M. E. Cardella, J. Turns, S. Mosborg, and J. Saleem, “Engineering Design Process: A Comparison of Students and Expert Practitioners,” Journal of Engineering Education, 96(4), October 2007.5. Voland, G., Engineering By Design, 2nd Ed., Pearson Prentice Hall (2004).

Moor, S. S. (2012, June), Introducing Memo Writing and a Design Process: A Five-week Simulator Project Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21602

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