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Writing In The Engineering Design Lab: How Problem Based Learning Provides A Context For Student Writing

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Potpurri Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1430.1 - 9.1430.10



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Paper Authors

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Clifton Johnston

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Diane Douglas

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

Session 3425

Writing in the Engineering Design Lab: How Problem Based Learning provides a Context for Student Writing

D.M. Douglas, C.R. Johnston, D.J. Caswell, M. Eggermont

Faculty of Engineering University of Calgary


It is the experience of most writing instructors that when students write (or speak) about subjects that matter to them many writing problems, such as grammar and poor organization, fall away. Since the quality of student writing seems to be dependant on the writing context, it is worthwhile looking at the situations in which we ask students to write.

If communication assignments are imposed by instructors to fulfill technical writing course requirements, the results are often predictably discouraging. Better writing is usually achieved if students generate written documents in order to communicate their own research. Problem-based learning, because it engages students in the real problems of their discipline, provides a necessary, rather than arbitrary, context for writing and oral presentation.


When students write documents to communicate with real clients, they are motivated to write well in order to convey their design ideas beyond the university setting. Real projects, particularly with real clients, provide an ideal context in which to imbed meaningful communication assignments. In the University of Calgary first year engineering design lab, 600 students “get physical fast”1 and begin working on real world design problems from the first day of term.

Professional documents such as logbooks, contracts and status reports have as much utility in the classroom as they have in the workplace. Team discussion through on-line discussion boards and internal documents such as memorandum introduces students to typical workplace practice and to standard workplace formats. Client based documents such as progress reports and proposals introduce students to professional reporting conventions.

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ©2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Johnston, C., & Douglas, D. (2004, June), Writing In The Engineering Design Lab: How Problem Based Learning Provides A Context For Student Writing Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13522

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