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WIP: Short Online Films to Help First-Year Students Write Reports as Engineers

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University

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Michael Alley is a professor of teaching for engineering communications at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Writing (Springer, 2018) and The Craft of Scientific Presentations (Springer-Verlag, 2013). He is also founder of the popular websites Writing as an Engineer or Scientist ( and the Assertion-Evidence Approach (

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Kaitlyn Pigeon Pennsylvania State University

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Kaitlyn is a graduation senior Industrial Engineering student at Pennsylvania State University. She has been an active mentor within the Women in Engineering Program and in the organization Undergraduate Teaching and Research Experiences in Engineering. During the Spring 2021 semester, she has helped to market the writing reports online tutorial to more Penn State engineering faculty and students. Kaitlyn is looking forward to starting her career in business operations consulting after graduation.

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Stephanie Cutler Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Stephanie Cutler has degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering, and a PhD in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. She is an Assistant Research Professor and the Assessment and Instructional Support Specialist in the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State as well as a co-founder of Zappe and Cutler Educational Consulting, LLC. Her primary research interest include faculty development, the peer review process, the doctoral experience, and the adoption of evidence-based teaching strategies.

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Because many engineering students do not take a technical writing course until their junior or senior year [1], a gap exists between the essays that students have learned to write in first-year composition and the reports that those students are expected to produce in many undergraduate design courses and laboratory courses. This paper introduces a series of ten online films (3 – 7 minutes each) to help undergraduates write engineering reports [2]. Since the release of this series at the beginning of 2020, these films have received a combined 8500 film views. Created using the NSF approach of I-Corps™ Learning [3], the films have derived their content from one-on-one interviews with more than 100 engineering students and more than 25 engineering faculty. The focus of these interviews was to understand the gap between what undergraduates already knew about writing from first-year composition and what is needed to write an engineering report. Over three semesters, we piloted the films to hundreds of students in first-year seminars and at the beginning of engineering writing courses. From these pilot tests, we gathered information about the film series which we incorporated into the 2020 version. Although a technical writing course in the junior or senior year should bridge the discussed gap, not understanding the differences between general writing and engineering writing poses problems for engineering undergraduates. For instance, not recognizing what first-year design instructors expect in a summary can pull down a report’s grade and lead students to assume that they are inherently not good at engineering writing. As Ambrose and others [4] have found, initial failure in performing a skill can lead many students to assume that they are inherently weak at that skill. Another problem is that engineering students who have not bridged the gap between general writing and engineering writing are at a disadvantage when writing reports during a summer internship. This film series on writing reports as an engineer is part of a larger collection on communicating as engineers and scientists. All series are available online to any student or faculty member and readily found through web searches of the terms “engineering writing” or “engineering presentations.” Because the series on engineering presentations, which has been available for two years, receives substantially more views (28,000 film views in 2020), we anticipate that the series on writing reports will receive more views as engineering faculty learn about it.


1. L. Reave, “Technical Communication Instruction in Engineering Schools: A Survey of Top-Ranked U.S. and Canadian Programs,” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 18 (4), 452 – 490. 2. “Tutorial on Writing Technical Reports,” (_____________________: _________________________ University, 2020). 3. K. A. Smith, A. F. McKenna, R. C. Chavela Guerra, R. Korte, and C. Swan, “Innovation Corps for Learning (I-Corps™ L): Assessing the Potential for Sustainable Scalability of Educational Innovations,” 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition (New Orleans, Louisiana: ASEE, June 2016), 10.18260/p.25702. 4. S. A. Ambrose, M. W. Bridges, M. DiPietro, M. C. Lovett, and M. K. Norman, How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2010), pp. 76 – 79.

Alley, M., & Pigeon, K., & Cutler, S. (2021, July), WIP: Short Online Films to Help First-Year Students Write Reports as Engineers Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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