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Teaching Assistants As A Catalyst For Composition Growth

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.407.1 - 1.407.4

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Paper Authors

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Craig Gunn

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

Session 3266

Teaching Assistants as a Catalyst for Composition Growth

Craig James Gunn Michigan State University

Abstract A procedure has been implemented to show the value of having graduate students act as the principle readers, evaluators, and graders of text produced in undergraduate mechanical engineering lab courses. Two years ago, the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University shifted the responsibility of reading and grading both technical content and presentation quality of lab reports produced by undergraduate juniors and seniors to the graduate teaching assistants in each required mechanical engineering lab. The new responsibility for these graduate assistants was begun in order to more efficiently address the enormous reading load that had arisen because of the interest in communication improvement in the department and the number of written reports that that interest had created. Although the reports were being read by a small group of teaching assistants for technical content, the composition feedback and grading was being handled by one individual. It was not only becoming physically impossible for one person to effectively read those quantities, but the quality of the comments and evaluations was beginning to suffer. It was therefore necessary to either reduce papers, cut feedback, or find another way to provide the needed comments that all writers need in order to improve their text production. The already existing body of teaching assistants was tapped to act as readers and evaluators. The issues regarding communication integrated into an engineering department, faculty support for the plan, preparation of the graduate students, orientation for the undergraduates who are impacted by the plan, and an evaluation of the process thus far will be addressed.

Introduction Communication skill has always been one of the first things that is considered when deficiencies within engineering programs are evaluated. Over the past years many strategies have been undertaken to address these concerns. The Writing Across the Curriculum movement has focussed on making writing a part of every classroom. Writing Centers have taken the role of guides to writers who need an additional audience for their texts. Freshman composition courses have tried to get students involved with writing as they enter colleges and universities. And writing-intensive courses have been designated by an individual department to handle the writing experience for the department’s students.

There is never a loss to find someone to say something about communication, from broad generalizations about speech patterns to highly specialized notions of exactly which word to use in a technical document. One of the most important realizations that we can ever make is that communication is part of our existence. From our first cries when we are born to the movements we make as we leave the world, we are communicating either to ourselves or to the world around us. Because this activity is so much a part of our lives, we cannot separate it from any of the other activities that we perform. Communication is,

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Gunn, C. (1996, June), Teaching Assistants As A Catalyst For Composition Growth Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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