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Using Writing to Link Procedures and Concepts in Statics

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1348.1 - 23.1348.17



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Paper Authors


Chris Venters Virginia Tech

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Chris Venters is a Ph.D. candidate in engineering education at Virginia Tech. His primary research interests involve studying conceptual understanding among students in early undergraduate engineering courses. He received his B.S. in aerospace engineering from North Carolina State University and his M.S. in aerospace engineering from Virginia Tech.

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Lisa DuPree McNair Virginia Tech

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Lisa DuPree McNair is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as Assistant Department Head of Graduate Education and co-Director of the VT Engineering Communication Center (VTECC). She received her PhD in Linguistics from the University of Chicago and an M.A. and B.A. in English from the University of Georgia. Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include interdisciplinary pedagogy for pervasive computing design; writing across the curriculum in Statics courses; as well as a National Science Foundation CAREER award to explore the use of e-portfolios for graduate students to promote professional identity and reflective practice. Her teaching emphasizes the roles of engineers as communicators and educators, the foundations and evolution of the engineering education discipline, assessment methods, and evaluating communication in engineering.

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Marie C Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication and teamwork in engineering, design education, and engineering identity. She was awarded a CAREER grant from NSF to study expert teaching practices in capstone design courses nationwide, and is co-PI on NSF . Her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, the effects of curriculum on design cognition, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

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Using Writing to Link Procedures and Concepts in StaticsThis study addresses two issues in engineering education: the desire to increase conceptualunderstanding and the need to enhance communication ability. Building on work thatdemonstrates how short writings in content classes can enhance communication skills, this studyexplores whether those same writings enhance conceptual knowledge. In prior work, the authorspresented findings from a pilot study in which weekly writing assignments were given ashomework in a statics course with the aim of improving students’ understanding of coursecontent. Results from the statistical analysis of scores on the Statics Concept Inventory indicateda positive difference in conceptual understanding among students who completed the writtenproblems (experimental group) versus those who did not (control group). However, coursegrades on common exams were similar, suggesting that while conceptual understandingimproved, levels of procedural knowledge between the two groups were undifferentiated.This paper compares the previously reported quantitative data with interview data collectedduring the same semester from selected students in both the control and experimental groups.The semi-structured interviews consisted of open-ended questions related to experiences in thecourse and perceptions of the written problems, as well as a think-aloud portion where studentswere asked to solve a statics problem while verbalizing their thought processes. The interviewswere transcribed and then coded for instances of conceptual and procedural knowledge,including both active demonstrations of each knowledge types as well as verbal indications of aconceptual and/or procedural approach to learning. Participant profiles were constructed fromthe coded sections of the interview, summarizing 1) their approach to learning, 2) their beliefsabout the course, 3) what topic(s) they found most difficult and why, 4) their perceptions of thewritten problems, and 5) their performance on the think-aloud problem. The profiles were thenanalyzed for common themes.Students varied in their approach to learning. Many described a procedure-centered view,including studying by working many problems, focusing on step-by-step solution methods, usingguess and check strategies for homework, etc.; others used more concept-centered methods likefocusing on understanding and seeking out relationships among different problems and topics.Students who perceived the greatest benefit from the written problems were largely those whorelied on concept-centered approaches, reporting that the assignments helped them clarify theirsolution process and generalize it to other similar problems. While procedure-centered studentsreported that they received little benefit from doing the problems, many still reported that they atleast reflected on their solution process and became better at translating their mathematicalsolutions into words.These results suggest that written problems may be useful for students who already desire todevelop conceptual knowledge by providing them with a way to receive feedback beyond thatwhich typically seen in most statics courses. Even for students who do not approach learningconceptually, the problems seem to promote reflection and thus may help them makeconnections between procedure and concept, which may in turn help explain quantitativedifferences found between the experimental and control groups.

Venters, C., & McNair, L. D., & Paretti, M. C. (2013, June), Using Writing to Link Procedures and Concepts in Statics Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22733

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