Adventures in paragraph writing: the development and refinement of scalable and effective writing exercises for large enrollment engineering courses. The ability to communicate effectively is a highly desirable attribute for today’s graduating engineers. Additionally, the inclusion of communication components in technical courses has been shown to enhance learning of technical content and can be leveraged to satisfy non-technical learning outcomes. However, the incorporation of such components in undergraduate engineering curricula remains challenging due to resource limitations, credit hour crunches, and other issues. This paper presents the design considerations and preliminary results from our ongoing work to create an effective, transferrable, low-overhead approach to paragraph writing exercises suitable for inclusion in any large engineering course. Key considerations in the development of these exercises include: identification of the motivations and learning outcomes for each exercise; development and tailoring of writing prompts (questions) appropriate for these outcomes; and the development and implementation of an assessment and feedback strategy,including resource-efficient grading rubrics and techniques.Results are reported from the application of the paragraph writing exercise in a large civil engineering undergraduate fluid mechanics course (120 students; approximately 15 assignments). A primary focus of this first application centered on two key components that must be refined in order for the exercise to be effective and transferrable: (1) the selection of writing prompts, and (2) assessment and feedback. Analysis of student paragraphs highlights the importance of the writing prompts in the success of the exercise, indicating that specific word choice, question focus, and supplemental instruction greatly affected the level of writing students submitted. Some writing prompts were selected to address and enhance technical content in the course, while other writing prompts were developed to broaden student awareness of engineering in societal, environmental, and global contexts. In addition to developing productive writing prompts, the assessment and feedback strategies were evaluated using student surveys and feedback. While minimal marking and holistic rubric assessment methods proved effective from a grading resource standpoint, students were frustrated by the lack of feedback associated with these techniques and uncomfortable with the holistic grading rubric. Data from student surveys point to the importance of giving meaningful feedback to students, and providing them with opportunities to revise their written submissions. Student surveys also highlighted an unforeseen obstacle to the exercise: student resistance to writing in technical courses. We provide several suggestions for overcoming student resistance, as well as improved assessment and feedback strategies that better meet student needs while still not over-burdening instructors and teaching assistants.
writing exercises, large-enrollment courses, civil engineering, assignment design, assessment
Date of this Version
Essig, R. R., & Troy, C. D., & Jesiek, B. K., & Boyd, J., & Trellinger, N. M. (2014, June), Adventures in Paragraph Writing: The Development and Refinement of Scalable and Effective Writing Exercises for Large-enrollment Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana. https://peer.asee.org/20032