A Learning Community: Teaching Technical Writing in the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Laboratory

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2014
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University of Iowa
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Chemical and Biological EngineeringEnglish
Abstract
A new approach to teaching technical writing skills to chemical engineering undergraduate students has been implemented by the authors. These students are required to take two laboratory courses, and in these courses they are required to complete reports in several different formats, including both written reports and oral presentations. In addition, the students are required to take a technical writing course offered by the English department. By linking the first laboratory course with the technical writing course in a learning community, the students have realized many benefits. First, there is consistent instruction provided on how to write technical reports, which are tailored to the chemical engineering profession. Second, a peer mentor is provided. This person has already completed both of the classes associated with the learning community, and provides additional help and instruction outside of class times. Third, there are some "linked" assignments – where a single report is submitted in both courses at the same time and is evaluated by both the lab staff and the English instructor. This allows for feedback from multiple readers and allows students to better understand how to write for a broad audience. Finally, a final design project proposal is assigned and evaluated jointly by both of the instructors during an oral presentation. The score earned by each group for this proposal is consistent in both of the classes, further reinforcing the idea that technical writing is a part of chemical engineering, not a separate subject. This paper will introduce the structure of the learning community linking the laboratory and technical writing courses, and discuss the results seen in student assessments and evaluations since it was first introduced. This discussion will include suggestions for implementing similar learning communities in other engineering disciplines.
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This presentation is published as Loveland, S. D. & McGough, S. D., (2014) “A Learning Community: Teaching Technical Writing in the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Laboratory”, 2014 ASEE North Midwest Section Conference 2014(1), 1-9. DOI: 10.17077/aseenmw2014.1028. Copyright 2014 Stephanie D. Loveland, Sheryl D. McGough. Posted with permission.
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