PORTFOLIO WRITING IN ENGINEERING EDUCATION
An engineer should be able to express oneself clearly in speech and in writing. One learns to write by writing and getting feedback. How should the feedback be directed and how should the assessment of written text be done for it to be of most use to the student? This can be a problem in higher education as scientific text and practical text (manuals, instructions,) can be very different in form, contents, and context.
The traditional method of checking the learning is to arrange a final exam. This usually works well, although it may test memory rather than learning. During a course of SAS programming we wanted to take more practical approach. Instead of final exam the students had to write a personal SAS-programmer’s handbook during and after the very intensive two-week course. They were directed to plan their handbook as if each one of them were the only person in a company trained in SAS and now in charge of education of the others. The handbook should help a novice to begin writing programs in SAS. The assessment would be based on the usefulness of the handbook seen in context of professional programmers who are foreign to SAS, but know other languages.
In many arts courses it is common to create a portfolio to show what one has learnt. It has not been common in engineering. We wanted to take the viewpoint of a possible software company in need of SAS programmers. Could one person learning SAS at the same time create material that could be used to train others? This would be the basis of assessment. The viewpoint of a company can differ from that of school: the text should be understandable by many readers, not only those on the same competence level.
In this case copy/paste was to be expected and allowed – even recommended within reason and reasonable amount, but the extent of it would be difficult to express forehand. In assessment the amount and kind of copy/paste had to be taken into consideration. It turned out that the teacher should know a lot about materials floating in the Internet in order to be able to say something about appropriateness of copy/paste.
After a number of handbooks we have seen that the amount of personal writing varies very wildly. Some students seem to have spent a lot of time trying to find yet another material that the teachers would not be aware of. Yet some students seemingly have taken the task seriously and really been composing material in a way a good writer or consultant would do. The real difficulty in copy/paste seems to lie in deciding what might be useful or important and what is not. If this method will be continued, the teacher has to use more time to guide students in selecting the important points from those of lesser importance. As this is also experience-dependent, the students need some careful guidance. With computerized tools composing neat and clear handbook is rather easy. The appropriate contents if the problem – always has, always will.
This paper summarizes our design ideas and experiences with writing handbooks as a result of a course.