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Reliable Data Verify That Curriculum Reform Made In Response To Portfolio Assessment Findings Improves Student Writing

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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

Course and Curriculum Innovations in ECE

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1070.1 - 10.1070.8



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Paper Authors

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Martha Ostheimer

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

Successful Writing Portfolio Assessment at the University of Arizona’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Improves Student Writing

Martha W. Ostheimer, Edward M. White University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Abstract  Industry and alumni consistently rank writing skills as the most important outcome in determining our engineering graduates’ success. In response to this feedback, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Arizona designed and began implementing a writing portfolio assessment process to evaluate student writing. Data obtained from five years experience have proven to be instructive for revising assignments, course goals and course content to improve student writing. Student attention to effective writing has also increased. Holistic scores on average have improved from 3.58, on a six- point scale with 6 being highest, in Spring 2002, to 4.3 in Fall 2003.


One major problem for engineering education has to do with student communication skills: every professional engineer and educator knows that strong communication skills, particularly the ability to write in the various modes required of engineers, are essential for successful engineers, yet instruction and assessment of that ability is rarely part of the engineering curriculum. Employers are well aware of the importance of communication skills for engineers; studies done by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at the University of Arizona show that engineering firms, as well as ECE graduates, rank writing ability as the most important skill in determining engineers’ success, even above the much more obvious technical skills that are the focus of much engineering education. In fact, results cited in a Report on Surveys of Opinions by Engineering Deans and Employers of Engineering Graduates on the First Professional Degree, indicate that over sixty percent of the respondents ranked better communications as the #1 priority for curriculum revision [1].

Yet it is difficult for engineering schools to stress the importance of student writing to their students and their faculty. Schools of humanities or social sciences normally require substantial amounts of writing in the required course work their students complete, and professors in these fields are accustomed to responding to that writing, asking for revision as called for, and including grades on the writing as part of the overall evaluation of student work for the course. Students expect to produce term papers in advanced courses in non-technical fields of study and to have those papers graded. But the engineering curriculum is so crowded with necessary technical work that most engineering professors are unwilling to take time for attention to

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

Ostheimer, M. (2005, June), Reliable Data Verify That Curriculum Reform Made In Response To Portfolio Assessment Findings Improves Student Writing Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14553

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