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The Civil Engineering Writing Project: One model for research-based writing innovations in STEM

Event Type
College of Engineering's Strategic Instructional Innovation Program
204 Loomis (Interaction Room)
Oct 9, 2017   12:00 pm  
Dr. Susan Conrad, Portland State University/Civil Engineering Writing Project
Julie Zilles
Originating Calendar
Physics - Departmental Events

In this presentation, I will describe the cycle of research and teaching that we use in the Civil Engineering Writing Project to improve students' preparation for writing in the workplace. Although the project focuses on civil engineering and workplace writing, the model is adaptable to any STEM discipline and to academic contexts as well. Our goal is to improve students' writing by integrating writing instruction into existing courses and assignments, rather than through any major curriculum changes.

In the first phase of the project, we analyzed student writing and effective practitioner writing. We worked with engineers in industry to identify the features of student writing that would be most problematic in engineering practice. In the second phase of the project, we are designing teaching materials targeted at the problems. We pilot the materials at four universities and analyze new student writing to assess the impact of the materials. Results have been positive, with student writing exhibiting improvements in organization, word choice, grammar choices (such as appropriate use of active and passive voice), and overall effectiveness (as evaluated by engineers in industry).

Besides providing specific examples of each stage of the project, I will highlight a set of characteristics that are important for the success of the priject but are also enduring challenges for us. These include the integration of writing and engineering content in the materials; our collaborations across disciplines (engineering and applied linguistics) and across contexts (academia and industry); and our use of multiple research techniques ranging from quantitative, computer-assisted linguistic analysis to more qualitative rhetorical analysis, and from short surverys to lengthy interviews.

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