Asee peer logo

Thinking and Understanding from Writing

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Engineering Physics & Physics Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Yumin Zhang Southeast Missouri State University

visit author page

Yumin Zhang is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics, Southeast Missouri State University. His academic career started in China; in 1989 he obtained master’s degree on Physics from Zhejiang University and then was employed as technical staff in the Institute of Semiconductors, Chinese Academy of Sciences. After receiving PhD degree on Electrical Engineering from University of Minnesota in 2000, he started to work as a faculty member in University of Wisconsin-Platteville and then in Oklahoma State University-Stillwater. His research fields include semiconductor devices and electronic circuits. Since joining Southeast Missouri State University in 2007, he also investigated in the field of Engineering Education.

visit author page


David K. Probst P.E. Southeast Missouri State University

visit author page

David Probst is Professor and Chair of the Physics and Engineering Physics Department at Southeast Missouri State University. Prior to joining Southeast, he was with McDonnell Douglas Corporation (now the Boeing Company) in St. Louis, MO.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Thinking and Understanding from Writing

Many concepts in physics and engineering courses cannot be understood easily. Although powerful computers with advanced software can generate fancy animations, students still cannot grasp these concepts without spending time reflecting on them. In the past, homework was the tool used by instructors to promote student learning. Unfortunately, now many students can bypass the challenge and they directly go to the solution manual for answers, which is widely available from the internet.

One way to nudge students reflecting on the concepts and theories is writing. In the Thermodynamics course offered in fall 2016, students are asked to write a summary every week. This summary has the same weight as the homework; the former emphasizes on concept and theory, and the latter stresses on problem solving skills. Unlike the homework, the summary cannot be copied from other sources easily. Students need to submit their summary through Turnitin, an effective plagiarism check software.

After the summary is graded, the best one is selected and revised by the instructor, and then it is posted at the class website. In this way, every student can read it and learn something they have missed. Initially the quality of the summaries was not very high, but the posted sample sets up a higher standard, and gradually most students improve their writing on the summary. At the end of the semester, each student will write a review on a specific topic in this course, and they will present their review to the whole class. In this generation of students, peer pressure is much stronger than the power of instructors.

The effectiveness of this approach will be assessed in two different ways. The first assessment is a direct questionnaire, and students will rate the effectiveness of writing the summaries on a 1-5 scale. In addition, they will also rate the usefulness of the posted sample summaries, as well as the project and presentation at the end of the semester. The second assessment is a concept inventory test, and the scores can demonstrate the effectiveness objectively.

Zhang, Y., & Probst, D. K. (2017, June), Thinking and Understanding from Writing Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29026

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015