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Preliminary Investigation of Undergraduate Students’ Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in Writing Lab Reports in Entry-level Engineering Laboratory Courses at Three Universities

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies

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Paper Authors


Dave Kim Washington State University, Vancouver

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Dr. Dave (Dae-Wook) Kim is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of Mechanical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Washington State University Vancouver. He has 15 years of experience in engineering materials and manufacturing. His research area includes materials processing, structural integrity improvement, and hybrid composite manufacturing. He has been very active in pedagogical research and undergraduate research projects, and his research interests include manufacturing laboratory pedagogy and writing pedagogy.

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Charles Riley P.E. Oregon Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Riley has been teaching mechanics concepts for over 10 years and has been honored with both the ASCE ExCEEd New Faculty Excellence in Civil Engineering Education Award (2012) and the Beer and Johnston Outstanding New Mechanics Educator Award (2013). While he teaches freshman to graduate-level courses across the civil engineering curriculum, his focus is on engineering mechanics. He has served in leadership positions in the ASEE Civil Engineering Division.

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Ken Lulay P.E. University of Portland

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BSME, University of Portland, 1984
MSME, University of Portland, 1987
PhD, University of Washington, 1990
Hyster Co., 1984-1987
Boeing 1990-1998
Associate Prof, University of Portland, Current

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Engineering undergraduates should be able to communicate the results of scientific inquiry via lab reports (ABET Outcome 6) in a manner that the audience comprehends and from which the audience can draw useful conclusions (ABET Outcome 3). Lab reports are often the first engineering literacies that undergraduates are assigned. Before entering their first engineering laboratory courses, they are exposed to various general education writing curricula such as first-year composition and/or technical writing, or a writing-across-the-curriculum approach. However, engineering educators often do not have enough knowledge about students’ prior writing knowledge and how they can connect students’ learning from early writing courses to their writing in their engineering lab courses. Writing transfer theories offer a potential solution but require a clear understanding of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). According to the lens of Vygotsky's theory of scaffolding, how can the ZPD in lab report writing be defined in the context of entry-level undergraduate engineering courses? In this study, lab report samples from three entry-level engineering courses at three different universities were collected as a preliminary investigation. The participating lab courses include a sophomore-level Materials Lab course at a private liberal-arts university, a sophomore-level Civil Engineering Materials course at a public polytechnic university, and a junior-level Introduction of Engineering Materials course at a public research university. Although the educational environments such as general education writing curricula, engineering curricula, and class size are varied among three institutions, they all include material testing labs such as tensile tests and hardness tests in the lab topics. We collected and analyzed undergraduates’ lab report samples (n = 18) of the first lab and the last lab in order to identify the ZPD of lab report writing in the context of three entry-level engineering lab courses. We developed and used an inclusive assessment rubric originated from the 2014 Writing Program Administrators Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition (WPA 3.0 outcomes) to analyze recurrent patterns of students' writing 1) in disciplinary meaning-making (i.e. organizational structures, reasoning, use of sources, etc.) and 2) technical communication (i.e. writing conventions, use of multi-modal design and/or quality of graphs/tables, etc.). This preliminary research uses Vygotsky's ZPD to identify the area of writing knowledge that undergraduates can acquire during one term of entry-level materials testing lab courses from three schools.

Kim, D., & Riley, C., & Lulay, K. (2019, June), Preliminary Investigation of Undergraduate Students’ Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in Writing Lab Reports in Entry-level Engineering Laboratory Courses at Three Universities Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33188

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