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Using Student Portfolios To Evaluate And Improve An Engineering Writing Program: A Case Study At The University Of Washington

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.620.1 - 3.620.5



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Paper Authors

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Cathie Scott

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Carolyn Plumb

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

Session 3147

Using Student Portfolios to Evaluate and Improve an Engineering Writing Program: A Case Study at the University of Washington

Cathie Scott, Carolyn Plumb University of Washington


Using portfolios of student writing to evaluate both writing programs and individual student performance has become popular at all levels of education. However, few (if any) engineering programs have adopted this method of assessment. The call from industry for engineers with better writing skills demands that engineering educators look to new tools to evaluate the effectiveness of writing instruction and the preparedness of students to write on the job.

At the University of Washington, we have embarked on a portfolio assessment project that involves collecting writing samples and other indicators of the engineering student writing experience. Through this program, we hope to gain a better understanding of what students are learning about written communication; we also plan to use the data from the project to establish clearer performance outcomes for our writing program.

This paper describes the goal of the project and the rationale behind our decision to adopt portfolio assessment. In addition, it describes the information being collected and the process being used to collect this information. This paper will be helpful to other engineering educators who are grappling with the assessment demands of ABET 2000.

What Is the Goal of the Portfolio Assessment Project?

The College of Engineering at the University of Washington (UW) admits about 800 students into its ten departments and programs each year. In order to prepare these students for writing in their profession, the college offers a writing program that consists of three components: two dedicated technical communication courses, writing completed in many department courses, and writing completed at work or co-ops.

In spring 1997, the college embarked on an ambitious three-year portfolio assessment project to gather detailed and comprehensive information on the nature and effectiveness of its writing program. The overall goal of this evaluation is to provide a baseline understanding of the program so that we can start to establish a common approach for teaching and assessing writing in the college. To attain our goal, we will use student portfolios to meet the following objectives: • Identify the writing status of students when they enter the college. • Characterize the writing experience of students while they are in the college. • Determine student writing status upon graduation. • Create performance-based learning outcomes, establish criteria for assessing these outcomes, and propose changes in curriculum and instruction to promote these outcomes.

Scott, C., & Plumb, C. (1998, June), Using Student Portfolios To Evaluate And Improve An Engineering Writing Program: A Case Study At The University Of Washington Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--7514

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