Improving the writing of engineering students through portfolios
Paper in proceedings, 2013
The Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering, University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has trialled the development and assessment of student writing, sketching, and oral presentation skills through a compulsory portfolio approach. Rather than rely on a dedicated communications course, students are required to improve their skills using assessed work from their professional courses. Students must take samples of their work and refine them prior to submission as a portfolio item. Students are supported with comprehensive written guidance, workshops, and one-on-one tutorials. Students must pass a 0 credit, pass/fail Communications Portfolio course before proceeding to communication-intensive courses in Year 4. Students who fail can either wait a year and resubmit, or pass a non-university summer course in technical writing at their own cost. The focus of this paper is on the development of writing skills within the broader Communication Skills Portfolio course. The motivation for this innovative approach is described in this paper, along with the structure development of the programme, the involvement of practicing engineers, and preliminary outcomes. The trial has taught us that student work must be tied to professional report practices and practicing engineers must be involved in delivering the message. Despite intensive workshops and advice, only 8 out of 43 portfolios were judged to have met professional expectations. One key finding of the investigation to date is that students need more advice and practice at error checking. The Department has the full support of employers to keep the pass bar high and to fail students who do not demonstrate competence with their standards. Results of the 2012 portfolios (submitted in November 2012) will be provided at the conference. © American Society for Engineering Education, 2013.