Engineering instructors have students write reports in order to help learn difficult concepts, data analysis, challenging problem solving, communication skills, and critical thinking. Sadly, many students seem to prefer obfuscating the subject matter and key ideas by using painfully unclear writing. An instructor dismayed by poor prose in submitted assignments has numerous familiar options available. Consider just a few:

1. Ignore the poor writing

2. Mark every error directly

3. Mark every error with a marginal comment

4. Give general feedback about the poor writing over the entire assignment

5. Expect students to rewrite and resubmit work

6. Change careers or retire

Instructors who use one or more of the above techniques in response to their students’ work may or may not see their efforts bear fruit, but they do invest time in the process, sometimes quite significant amounts of time. This work questions whether a minor intervention could guide students without adding an excessive burden on the instructor. We describe a tool for students may use to help them identify poor writing symptoms and encourage targeted editing to improve clarity. In practice, it permits students to receive automated feedback prior to first submitting their work, freeing the instructor to focus on more interesting learning.

Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method, described wonderfully in his book, Revising Prose (Fifth Edition, Pearson Longman, 2007) inspired the author to steer students toward his excellent advice. However, in the author’s hands, the advice too often falls flat. Since devising this Paramedic Method Highlighter tool, the students seem to respond more positively and, sometimes, even edit their work. The webpage, http://tinyurl.com/PM-Macro, contains the free tool, instructions for its use, and video explanations. This work describes the tool, shows how instructors use it in class, gives student feedback, and assesses student work.


Electrical and Computer Engineering

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URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/eeng_fac/330