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The Impact of Scaffolded Writing Instruction on Followup Course Assignments

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Promoting Technical Communication Skills

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Sarah Summers Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Dr. Sarah Summers earned her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Penn State University and joined the RHIT faculty in 2014. Her work focused on writing in the disciplines, particularly at the advanced undergraduate and graduate levels. She teaches courses in writing and engineering communication, including technical and professional communication, intercultural communication, digital writing, and grant writing.

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Rebecca Bercich Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Rebecca Bercich is Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She received her BS, MS, and PhD degrees in biomedical engineering from Purdue University in 2016. Her doctoral research focused on the development of wirelessly powered implantable devices to record and stimulate bioelectric activity. She currently teaches in in the areas of mechatronics, measurements, and engineering design. Address: Department of Mechanical Engineering, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, 5500 Wabash Ave., Terre Haute, IN 47803 Phone: (812) 877-8121 E-mail:

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Phillip Cornwell Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Phillip Cornwell currently teaches at the United States Air Force Academy and is an Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1989 and his present interests include structural dynamics, structural health monitoring, and undergraduate engineering education. Dr. Cornwell has received an SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award in 1992, and the Dean’s Outstanding Teacher award at Rose-Hulman in 2000 and the Rose-Hulman Board of Trustee’s Outstanding Scholar Award in 2001. He was one of the developers of the Rose-Hulman Sophomore Engineering Curriculum, the Dynamics Concept Inventory, and he is a co-author of Vector Mechanics for Engineers: Dynamics, by Beer, Johnston, Cornwell, and Self. In 2019 Dr. Cornwell received the Archie Higdon Distinguished Educator Award from the Mechanics Division of ASEE.

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Daniel Takashi Kawano Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Daniel T. Kawano is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He obtained his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering, with a focus in dynamical systems, from the University of California, Berkeley.

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James E. Mayhew Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology


Sean Moseley Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Sean Moseley is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
He received a B.S. from The Georgia Institute of Technology and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

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The impact of scaffolded writing instruction on follow-up course assignments

The Mechanical Engineering Department at [Institution] implemented a series of scaffolded assignments across several required courses to improve students’ ability to write memos. This scaffolding plan was based on a study of writing across the ME curriculum with the goal of identifying the communication tasks and skills that the department expects to transfer across courses [1]. By examining current assignments, soliciting input from practicing engineers, reading the appropriate engineering education literature [2,3], and using composition theory [4], the department developed and implemented a plan to sequence memo instruction and assignments in three courses across two years in the curriculum. The goal of this scaffolding plan was to encourage students to transfer previous writing instruction to new contexts so they would be able to write professional documents independently by the time they graduate.

For this work, we define scaffolding to be a purposeful alignment of instruction and expectations across multiple courses throughout the curriculum (not just in a single course). The level of instruction and guidance about the content and features of technical memos is slowly reduced as students practice applying what they have learned in past classes to later assignments. This scaffolding requires clear communication between instructors to ensure they build on previous instruction instead of starting from scratch.

In this paper, we will discuss the assessment of the effectiveness of the scaffolding plan for the second-year ME curriculum by collecting memos in a third-year course. In 2018, we collected memos from students who had not received the intentional, scaffolded instruction during the second-year curriculum. In 2019, we will collect memos from students who will have mostly received the scaffolded instruction. In November and December of 2019, we will rate all collected memos using a rubric that assesses rhetorical and generic features common to all technical memos: • writing • technical credibility • graphical elements • memo formatting

During our rating process, raters will not know which year the memos were collected. Our research will be completed in time to report our findings by the February draft paper deadline. Our paper will describe the findings of our comparison of the memos written by students who were and were not part of the scaffolding plan we designed. We believe our research will answer questions including: • Does scaffolded instruction in a previous course sequence improve students’ memo writing in a follow-up course? • If yes, in which areas is this improvement seen?

Finally, we will discuss proposed modifications to our scaffolding plan and applications of our findings to other communication genres.


[1] Reference removed for blind review process. [2] S. Conrad, “A comparison of practitioner and student writing in civil engineering,” Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 106, no. 2, pp. 191–217, 2017. [3] J. Craig, N. Lerner, and M. Poe, “Innovation across the curriculum: Three case studies in teaching science and engineering communication,” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 280–301, 2008. [4] J. Meyer and R. Land, Overcoming barriers to student understanding: threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. London: Routledge, 2012.

Summers, S., & Bercich, R., & Cornwell, P., & Kawano, D. T., & Mayhew, J. E., & Moseley, S. (2020, June), The Impact of Scaffolded Writing Instruction on Followup Course Assignments Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35332

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