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Title: WIP: Online Tutorials to Help Undergraduates Bridge the Gap Between General Writing and Engineering Writing
The demands of engineering writing are much different from those of general writing, which students study from grade school through first-year composition. First, the content of engineering writing is both more specific and more complex [1]. As a second difference, not only do the types of audiences vary more in engineering but so does the audience’s level of knowledge about the content. Yet a third difference is that the expected level of precision in engineering writing is much higher [2]. Still a fourth difference is that the formats for engineering reports, which call for writing in sections and for incorporating illustrations and equations, are much more detailed than the double-space essays of first-year composition. Because many engineering students do not take a technical writing course until their junior or senior year, a gap exists between what undergraduates have learned to do in general writing courses and what those students are expected to produce in design courses and laboratory courses. While some engineering colleges such as the University of Michigan have bridged the gap with instruction about engineering writing in first-year design, a few such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison have done so with first-year English [4]. Still, a third group more » of schools such as Purdue have done so using an integration of these courses [5]. Unfortunately, many other engineering colleges have not bridged the gap in the first year. For instance, at Penn State, first-year design is not an option for teaching engineering writing because this course spans only one semester course and has no room for another major instructional topic. In addition, at this same institution, first-year composition is not an option because the English Department is adamant about having that course’s scope remain on general writing. Although a technical writing course in the junior or senior year should theoretically bridge the gap, not understanding the differences between general writing and engineering writing poses problems for engineering students who have yet taken technical writing. For instance, not understanding the organization of an engineering report can significantly pull down a report’s grade and lead students to assume that they are inherently weak at engineering writing [6]. Another problem is that engineering students who have not bridged the gap between general writing and engineering writing are at a disadvantage when writing emails and reports during a summer internship. To bridge this gap, we have created an online resource [7] that teaches students the essential differences between general writing and the writing done by engineers. At the heart of the resource are two web pages—one on writing reports and the other on writing professional emails. Each page consists of a series of short films that provide the essential differences between the two types of writing and a quiz to ensure comprehension of the films. In addition, students have links to model documents, while faculty have links to lesson plans. Using an NSF I-Corps approach [8], which is an educational version of how to build a start-up company [9], we have developed our web resource over the past six months. Specifically, we have tested value propositions through customer interviews of faculty and students in first-year courses in which the resource has been piloted. Using the results of those customer interviews, we have revised our two web pages. This paper presents the following highlights of this effort: (1) our customer discoveries about the gap between general writing and engineering writing, (2) the corresponding pivots that we made in the online resource to respond to those discoveries, and (3) the website usage statistics that show the effects of making those pivots « less
Authors:
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Award ID(s):
1752096
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10207519
Journal Name:
WIP: Online Tutorials to Help Undergraduates Bridge the Gap Between General Writing and Engineering Writing
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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