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Peer Review and Reflection in Engineering Labs: Writing to Learn and Learning to Write

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Undergraduate Peer Educators: Mentoring, Observing, Learning

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Tagged Topic

ASEE Board of Directors

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Paper Authors


Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist and assistant professor at the University of New Mexico in the Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program, and in the Chemical & Biological Engineering Department. She served as Co-PI on an NSF RET Grant and a USDA NIFA grant, and is currently co-PI on three NSF-funded projects in engineering and computer science education, including a Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project. She was selected as a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions; this includes a two-strand research program focused on (1) authentic assessment, often aided by interactive technology, and (2) design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn.

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Catherine Anne Hubka University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Catherine (Cat) Hubka, MFA, holds dual appointments at the University of New Mexico in the Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE) and Department of English. For CBE, she is embedded in the 300 and 400 labs where she supports curriculum redesign focused on incorporating content-based writing approaches. In the Department of English, Cat teaches in the Core Writing Program where her pedagogy incorporates creative writing workshops and collaborative writing.

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Eva Chi University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Eva Chi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at the University of New Mexico. The research in her lab is focused on understanding the dynamics and structures of macromolecular assemblies including proteins, polymers, and lipid membranes. Undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars are trained in a multidisciplinary environment, utilizing modern methodologies to address important problems at the interface between chemistry, physics, engineering, and biology preparing the trainees for careers in academe, national laboratories, and industry. In addition to research, she devotes significant time developing and implementing effective pedagogical approaches in her teaching of undergraduate courses to train engineers who are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and able to understand the societal contexts in which they are working to addressing the grand challenges of the 21st century.

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Clear communication of complex technical concepts vexes both undergraduate engineering students and professors who often throw up their hands exclaiming, “Why can’t students write?” Instead of decrying students’ skills or blaming the English department, the engineering department in this study decided to reframe writing as a process of collaboration, rather than a final product. Working with an English faculty member embedded in our department, we designed a peer review and reflection activity for junior and senior level chemical engineering laboratory courses. We hypothesized that incorporating this would improve student writing by providing more writing time and facilitating knowledge transfer from lower-level composition courses. We collected data in a senior chemical engineering laboratory course (N=52). Students completed a survey about their past writing courses. After conducting their experiment, students wrote short technical report drafts and then participated in a peer review session. They were given instruction about genre and stylistic conventions for lab reports. They filled out a peer review rubric to guide them in giving feedback and wrote a short reflection about the process, including what they learned. Students revised their reports based on feedback from their peer reviewer and the instructor and turned in a reflective memo to explain changes they made in the revision process. Students also provided feedback on the process. We repeated this process with long reports a few weeks later. We conducted qualitative analysis on the student work. Students critiqued their peer’s work, finding everything from mechanical and grammatical errors, troubled tables, figures, and calculations, to issues with coherence and logical flow of ideas. While students did not have sufficient background to give technical feedback on the first short report, they were able to on the long reports. Students responded positively overall to the process and reflected on their own writing. Embedding the process of writing in a lab setting provides a structured opportunity for students to review their own work and another’s critically. As we have shown in this study, engineering students can be guided toward improved technical writing.

Svihla, V., & Hubka, C. A., & Chi, E. (2018, June), Peer Review and Reflection in Engineering Labs: Writing to Learn and Learning to Write Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30866

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