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Scaffolding Techniques For Improving Engineering Students' Writing Skills

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Writing Is Fundamental

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1042.1 - 14.1042.12



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Paper Authors


Murali Krishnamurthi Northern Illinois University

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Murali Krishnamurthi is Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Director of Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at Northern Illinois University. He received his Ph.D in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University. His teaching and research interests include project management, information systems, system simulation, optimizaton, expert systems, and engineering education.

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

Scaffolding Techniques for Improving Engineering Students’ Writing Skills


Writing is related to critical thinking and good writing skills help students improve their academic performance. Engineering students as well as engineering courses have some unique needs and issues when it comes to writing, and require better approaches to improve students’ writing skills. Scaffolding is one such approach to teach writing skills as it builds students’ writing skills gradually from simple to complex tasks, and helps students become better writers. This paper describes the successful use of scaffolding techniques to improve students’ writing skills in three engineering courses. The scaffolding techniques involved modeling the concepts and expected behavior by the instructor, conducting in-class activities to help students learn the concepts, assigning homework activities that build on the previous steps, and providing clarifications and support resources to help students in the learning process. The scaffolding techniques allowed students to go from simple to complex aspects of writing, such as citations, academic integrity, literature review, grammar, format, and the writing process, and develop the necessary writing skills and confidence in their abilities. The paper includes results from implementing scaffolding techniques in the three courses, and a discussion on how the techniques can be integrated by other faculty in their courses without spending too much time and effort or sacrificing course content.


Good writing skills are more important than ever, especially in this age of technology4,6. A survey of 120 major corporations conducted by the College Board’s3 National Commission on Writing revealed that nearly two-thirds of salaried employees of those corporations held positions that required good writing skills. According to Richard Sterling, executive director of the National Writing Project, the results of the 2007 Survey of Teaching Writing conducted by the National Writing Project12 indicate that the public recognizes the importance of good writing skills more than ever and that learning to write well is as important as learning to read. Sterling exhorts that “The word is out: writing must be an integral part of the curriculum.”

Engineering faculty members recognize the importance of good writing skills but often have the difficult task of promoting effective writing practices among their students. Faculty members cannot always assume that their students would have learned the basic writing techniques in high school or in core competency courses in college. Even if students were exposed to basic writing techniques in their pre-engineering courses, they usually forget those techniques if they do not have sufficient opportunities to refresh and practice them regularly. Faculty members also need supplementary resources to help students refresh their basic knowledge of grammar, style and organization, and techniques to integrate writing assignments effectively into engineering courses. Wheeler and McDonald17 state that “engineering faculty members have a common “discomfort with their ability to assign, and especially evaluate prose” as many engineering faculty members may feel that it is the responsibility of the English department to teach students writing. Another legitimate concern of faculty members is the time required for developing,

Krishnamurthi, M. (2009, June), Scaffolding Techniques For Improving Engineering Students' Writing Skills Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5828

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