Engineering and Materials Science

Thinking Writing has had a long involvement with the School of Engineering and Materials Science, starting with co-developed workshops for third year individual project and fourth year group project students, and extending to efforts to embed productive attention to writing within the large classes common in the first and second year of an engineering degree.  In this work we have been tackling the following issues:

  • how to give students sufficient support for, and practice in, writing the key genres identified by the department
  • how to identify and make clear to students the key kinds of thinking required for success in  those genres
  • how to develop students' own judgment to what makes successful writing in engineering
  • given large student numbers and a crowded curriculum, how to ensure that writing is included and sufficiently supported through input and feedback
  • how to build students' abilities as capable engineering writers from the the first year to graduation

Supporting report writing in the first year

Scientific or technical reports require students to demonstrate kinds of thinking that are valued in the field, for example, the representation and interpretation of experimental results and the ability to discuss results in relation to relevant theory and existing research. However students come to university with varied experiences of writing reports and understanding how they function. SEMS has created an introductory approach to reports that ties in with their academic tutorial system in the first few weeks of the academic year. Thinking Writing has mentored SEMS Teaching Assistants to run report writing workshops during induction. These workshops get the new students looking at examples of undergraduate work and developing for themselves a sense of what the requirements of a first year report are. In the following weeks the students go on to write sections of a report based on an experiment and data they are given. They receive generic feedback on the task via an online video, before working in their tutorial groups to peer assess each others' work. This work is also supported by two simple self-access resources produced by Thinking Writing in collaboration with academics in the School and using examples adapted from first year students' lab reports. 

Read the report writing task; watch Dr Hazel Screen's feedback video; look at the resource that exemplifies a traditional report structure (IMRaD); and the resource that focuses on the results and discussion sections

Feedback on the resources would be welcome. They were part funded by the UKCME, and the design and development were in collaboration with staff and students in the School of Computing at London Metropolitan University.  Please contact us.

Large classes and peer assessment

STEM subjects often have large student cohorts making it time consuming for tutors to mark and give feedback on coursework. This was a problem that Professor Julia Shelton and Dr Jens Mueller  in the School of Engineering and Material Sciences (SEMS) faced when they wanted to give more writing support to their students. In collaboration with Thinking Writing, various solutions were tried until we hit on the idea of peer assessment. Over a period of four years, Thinking Writing helped these teachers to implement peer assessment so that:

  • Students were prepared for peer assessment in rehearsal marking sessions
  • Students read a range of work and marked and wrote feedback comments on that work
  • Peer assessment administration was managed on line; reports were distributed, marks calculated, feedback collated and delivered automatically to students
  • Peer assessment was evaluated through questionnaires, focus groups, observations and conversations

Read more about this work in a co-authored conference paper on the implementation of peer assessment in SEMS, on our Medical Engineering case study page, and in the following journal article:

McConlogue, T. (2012). But is it fair? Developing students’ understanding of grading complex written work through peer assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 37(1).

 Supporting research writing

Masters level students in SEMS work in groups on an original research project and have traditionally produced a large, unwieldy, group report. Dr Tina Chowdhury and other colleagues in SEMS, designed a module to support the group project and broke down the assessed writing tasks so that students wrote smaller pieces at staged points throughout the year (for example, an extended abstract, an executive summary, a design report). Thinking Writing supported the redesign of the research project module, and in collaboration with Tina designed in-class and online activities to support students’ completion of the tasks.

Documents you can download from this page: