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Writing Program Improvements For A Materials Engineering Laboratory Course

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Teaching Methods for the 21st Century: Part 2

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Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1617.1 - 12.1617.12



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Paper Authors

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Anastasia Micheals San Jose State University


Emily Allen San Jose State University

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Dr. Emily L. Allen is Professor and Chair of the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at San José State University. She conducts research in materials synthesis and fabrication for applications in nanoelectronics. Her teaching portfolio includes courses on electronic and magnetic properties of materials, materials transformations, microelectronics processing and senior design.. She is Director of SJSU’s Materials Characterization and Metrology Center and has been awarded funding from NSF, DARPA and DMEA in support of this Center and its research on nanoscale materials.

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Jeanne Linsdell San Jose State University

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Dr. Jeanne Linsdell is Director of Technical Communication, SJSU College of Engineering. Over 25 years at SJSU, she has developed and taught technical writing and earth and environment classes as well as the graduate research and writing class. Outside the classroom she works with new and mature organizations that need to adapt for greater productivity, focusing on training in communication, human relations, organization behavior, teamwork, conflict resolution, ethics and effective problem solving.

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

Writing Program Improvements for a Materials Engineering Laboratory Course


The Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at San José State University offers introductory courses in materials engineering (MatE 25) and electrical properties of materials (MatE 153) to about 500 engineering students every year. Almost all engineering majors are required to take at least one of these classes, both of which have laboratory components requiring a significant amount of writing. The writing assignments in MatE25 and MatE153 have traditionally been in the format of short journal articles, which is not necessarily the most appropriate, or most useful, format to teach engineering students. The reports are graded by individual lab section instructors, which brings an element of unfair inconsistency to the student overall course grade. Writing quality is often weak, and in addition many students do not read or heed the grader’s remarks. The scores on individual student lab reports do not increase over the course of a semester as a rule, which may be an indication that no real improvement is happening during the delivery of the course. This may in part be due to lack of explicit instruction in what constitutes an appropriate report and how it is to be structured.

To address these issues, a two-semester research program was developed with the objective of ensuring that the time needed to write and grade these writing assignments was well spent. The primary goals of the program were to develop a new formulation for the writing assignments that was more reflective of and appropriate for real-life engineering situations, to clarify the iterative communication loop between student and teacher regarding the effectiveness of the writing, and to create an evaluation process that would promote consistency among multiple instructors.

The writing assignments were reformulated in the form of contextual assignments, modeled on real-world settings in industry, and covering a range of complexities, from a short engineering report, to a long engineering report with an executive summary and cover letter. Student guidelines were created to identify various types of engineering reports, subjects typically addressed in these reports, and appropriate content for each section. A rubric for evaluating the reports was developed and used in several sections of MatE 153. Our conclusions are that the rubric makes grading faster and allows the instructor to easily and consistently provide accurate and detailed feedback to students. We have also observed that the majority of students respond to the rubric feedback, and improved their performance in specific areas on subsequent assignments. A cross-grading exercise was performed in which each instructor graded up to 6 student papers. The exercise showed that the grade derived from the rubric closely agreed with the holistic grade determined by the instructor without using the rubric. It also showed that different instructors, grading the same paper, arrived at numerical scores that were within 7% of each other.

The assignments, rubric, and student guidelines have now been incorporated into all sections of the MatE 153 lab. The rubric and the assignments are easy to modify and it is likely that these materials will be extended to other courses in the Department and College.

Keywords: Writing, laboratory, engineering reports, contextual assignments, rubric

Micheals, A., & Allen, E., & Linsdell, J. (2007, June), Writing Program Improvements For A Materials Engineering Laboratory Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2521

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