Campus Writing Program

The Colorado School of Mines Campus Writing Program is founded on the idea that the ability to communicate effectively will make Mines graduates more competitive, more confident, more successful in their careers and ultimately better positioned to influence their chosen fields, the workplace, and our world.

Within the Division of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, The Writing Center supports the Campus Writing Program, which fosters a campus environment that values and supports communication.

The Writing Center

What We Do

The Writing Center provides free professional one-on-one tutoring to members of the Mines community, to assist them with any writing project that is at any stage of the writing process. Our professional consultants (many of whom are expert teachers and writers themselves) can help with brainstorming, organization, creative generation, citation, documentation, technical and scientific writing, grammar, syntax and mechanics for native speakers and for ESL students. These tutors will work on first and final drafts and everything in between! While we don’t simply proofread or edit papers, our aim is to give writers the tools and techniques they need to learn how to do it for themselves. Starting with the Fall 2017 semester, we will be offering student tutors, trained by our professional tutors, for the first time.

More Information

Make an Appointment

To visit the Writing Center, please go to our online scheduler at mines.mywconline.com. Log in or register for an account with your Mines email address. You will then be able to see the entire schedule and make, change, or cancel appointments. Appointments are 50 minutes in length (30 minutes are also available, but rarely can a tutor give the help they need to in the shorter time-frame, so be selective).

We find that most students underestimate the time needed to work on their writing, so please be sure to have a good plan and good understanding of what you need from our tutors.

If you need to cancel, you must do so at least one hour before your appointment time or the system will mark you as a no-show. After three no-shows, you will be locked out of the system. If you have questions about the schedule or making appointments, please contact Professor Allyce Horan.

Location

The Writing Center is located on the first floor of Alderson Hall, Room 133.

Hours

Spring 2018 tutor hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays. For student tutor hours, see the scheduler.

Thesis Formatting Hours: (fall and spring semesters) No appointment is necessary for this service. Walk-in thesis formatting help is offered two to three weeks before an upload deadline. Students can bring a paper or electronic copy of their thesis for a format review. Students can receive help with formatting questions such as margins, visual aids, page numbers, white space and table of contents.

CASA Student tutors*: (fall and spring semesters) NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY! The Center for Academic Services and Advising also provides student tutoring on campus; student tutors are trained and mentored by our professional tutors to be able to help with specific writing needs and common problems that Mines students often have in classes like Human Systems, NHV and Field Session.

*All Writing Center peer tutors are located in the Arthur Lakes Library, while Allyce Horan has hours in CASA.

CASA tutoring schedule

Faculty Resources

Teaching writing can be tremendously rewarding. We can work with students to find a means of self expression; we help them to work through their ideas on the page; we guide them in communicating those ideas to others.

But teaching writing also presents us with specific challenges. The goal of these Faculty Resources is to provide teachers of writing with effective strategies for creating writing assignments and grading and responding to student work. We have also provided information about Writing Intensive course design.

From 1998 to 2011, nearly 100 Mines faculty members participated in WAC workshops led by former Writing Program Administrator Dr. Jon A. Leydens, which is noteworthy on a campus with roughly 250 full-time faculty members.  On workshop evaluations, faculty participants were asked whether they would recommend the WAC workshop to colleagues, and 100 percent responded affirmatively.  Several faculty have written or called weeks or months after the workshop, noting its utility in fostering student learning of technical concepts.  In anonymous evaluations, faculty participants have noted that the WAC workshop offers teaching strategies that foster student learning and that they wished they had participated in such a workshop at the outset of their careers. The faculty responses at right are representative of recurring responses from faculty generally, and the resources below are ones specifically suggested by faculty.

Learning and Teaching

Writing Across the Curriculum

Best Practices: Chemical Engineering

Course: CRGN 312/313 Unit Operations Laboratory
Course Type: Six-credit field session, two-course sequence, mostly lab

Key Course Writing Features

  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Field Session Course
  • Instructor serves as Coach
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students should finish the course with the ability to apply concepts from fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and mass transfer to the identification, formulation, and solution of unit operations problems.  They should also be able to apply concepts from mathematics courses to model and solve unit operations problems.  Further, students should develop their abilities to solve open-ended unit operations problems, especially in terms of problem design, analysis, synthesis of relevant concepts, data evaluation and interpretation.  Students should also be able to compute descriptive statistics and apply methods of statistical inference and regression analysis.  Finally, students should demonstrate effective group and leadership skills including goal management as well as facilitating team discussions and insuring the team achieves all required tasks on schedule.

Course Communication Goals

Students completing this course should be able to produce professional quality written and oral reports that present, analyze, and interpret experimental results logically and are well organized and easy to read or clearly delivered.  They should also be able to use professional quality graphics to effectively present experimental data, empirical correlations, and theoretical relationships.

Writing Assignments

Students conduct eight experiments on which they write four reports (two 15-20 pp. and the other two no more than 8 pages each) and give four oral reports.  In addition, for each experiment they write a pre-lab report that explores their plans for conducting the experiment, their rationale for those plans, and their expected results.  We also have a “fifth” oral report in which students re-conduct and reinterpret results of one of the early experiments and reflect on how and why they did it differently.  Fifty percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

The assignments are designed both to foster and demonstrate higher-order thinking, specifically synthesis, evaluation, and interpretation.  Data interpretation tends to be somewhat foreign to them at first and improves dramatically after an initial period of frustration.  This frustration stems in part from the disconnect between the expectation of being spoon-fed answers and the Socratic manner in which this course is taught; we provide questions to their questions and merely point them in general directions as they grapple with fairly open-ended experiments.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

Group work is emphasized since groups—not teams—conduct experiments together.  Students do not stay in the same groups for more than one experiment, so they learn a lot about working with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  Groups also sit through each other’s orals and learn diverse approaches to the experiments.  We adhere strictly to the course prerequisites to reduce the chance of someone becoming a drain on his or her team.  Also, individuals within a team can get lower individual grades if it becomes clear during the question and answer period following their orals that an individual lags behind with respect to her or his classmates in the group.

We also want students to know more discipline-specific writing conventions, such as how chemical engineers commonly format certain graphics, what constitutes sufficient and effective supporting data, and so on.   In addition, we also stress the iterative process by which an experimental report is produced.  Because of these goals, three technical faculty and a half-time communications expert co-teach the course.   Both a technical faculty member and the communications expert read each report.

Student Responses to the Course

Some of the students don’t like the Socratic teaching method while they are in the course, yet during interviews with exiting seniors and contacts with alumni, most of them say this and the senior design course were the most useful. It would be interesting to do surveys with alumni to see if their responses from the workplace vantage point change over time. Students’ willingness to embrace the Socratic teaching method definitely influences their success in this course, so at the outset we tell them how the course will be taught and why.

Future Course Changes

Because of changes in the new curriculum, we’ll need to incorporate more statistics into the course.  We are also planning to include a hazardous operations analysis to bolster the safety component of the course.

Best Practices: Chemistry and Geochemistry

Course: CHGN 490 Synthesis and Characterization
Course Type: Field session, primarily a lab course

Key Course Writing Features:

  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Field Session Course
  • Instructor serves as Coach
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students should finish this course with increased knowledge about and abilities to perform techniques for synthesizing and characterizing chemical compounds.  They should also be able to critically analyze these techniques.

Course Communication Goals

Students should improve their ability to convey technical information in a clear, concise, and precise manner; they should also sharpen their ability to retrieve and cull relevant information from primary sources.

Writing Assignments

Students write 16, 4-5 page reports, 15 of which require them to research a compound well enough so they can synthesize and characterize it, which includes proving that it is indeed the compound they were supposed to make and that it is pure.  In one of the reports, they must conduct a literature review to find a new synthetic technique that we have not incorporated in the class.  These are all individual reports, and each student is given unique research projects.  Eighty percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

The reports require students to understand the synthesis techniques in the literature well enough to evaluate and select one technique.  If in the lab this technique does not work, they have to reevaluate the techniques and try again.  The reports allow them to reiterate and perhaps reflect on their trials, errors, and eventual successes.  This type of inquiry also calls for a good deal of one-on-one coaching in the lab. Since approximately 50% of our graduates go on to graduate school and some others go work in labs, it is important that they know how to do research—especially how to locate, read, synthesize, and evaluate pertinent primary literature, and then report their findings.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

Both skill and confidence building are part of the report writing, so we often give students 4-5 compounds a week, one of which is fairly straightforward, a few of mid-range difficulty, and one quite challenging. This way, students can do a few well before tackling the more challenging one. The course also helps them develop their time-management skills.

Also, the course is designed to provide students with practice and a foundation for their Undergraduate Research (senior seminar) course, in which they will investigate a more in-depth research problem, write a longer research paper, and give an oral presentation.

Student Responses to the Course

Over time and with practice, students definitely see how much better they become at collecting, synthesizing and evaluating techniques.  Students seem to appreciate the file of reports from previous years, as those include grades and instructor comments; this range of samples is particularly valuable at first to convey report expectations in a concrete way.

Best Practices: Economics and Business

Course: EBGN 402 Field Session
Course Type: Three-credit field session course

Key Course Writing Features

  • Assignment Scaffolding (assignments build on previous ones)
  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Field Session Course
  • Instructor serves as Coach
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking
  • Writing to Non-Academic Audiences
  • Project-Based Learning

Course Content Goals

Students should finish this course with a complete problem-solving experience.  They should be able to apply economic and business theories to an open-ended, real-world problem and be able to select and use the appropriate tools to make decisions on complex issues. Overall, students completing the project should have learned to synthesize and apply conceptual tools from previous courses and learned to carefully evaluate those tools when selecting which one(s) to use.

Course Communication Goals

Students must communicate effectively with the instructor and the client to successfully complete the project.  They should be able to write a substantial final document that is tailored to and meets the needs of the client and that is free of unclear jargon.

Writing Assignments

Over the six weeks of the course, students write a proposal defending their topic choice and providing a project timeline as well as an overview of the problem and the methodological approach, including data sources and references. They write one progress report, submit a draft of the final report a few weeks before it is due, and then write the 30-40-page final report. Seventy percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

The above assignments are designed to ensure that students select a project that can actually be completed in six weeks and that their approach to the problem is sound.  The timing of the assignments also serves to avert procrastination and to give students feedback on their works in progress, both on the thinking and the way they convey that thinking.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

The assignments also allow students, many for the first time, to write to a non-specialist  audience. Through this, they experience how to communicate without jargon yet using the kind of clear language that readers expect.  Also, sometimes students use terms imprecisely, and Economics and Business demands precision in word choice. The class also provides an opportunity to teach students how to clearly convey graphical information using real data; they often need to learn how to pen appropriate titles and to specify the precise units of graphical information.

Student Responses to the Course

The majority of the students enjoy this course, especially the flexibility and the amount of individual attention they receive from the instructor.  A minority of students struggle with the open-ended problems because of lack of prior experience.  After I turn in grades, I always notice that there is a high correlation between the students’ grades in this class and their grades in previous classes in Economics and Business, largely because students must know the tools well enough to apply them meaningfully.  This skill cannot be easily learned in six weeks, especially since there are no formal class meetings (instructor-student communication is primarily via phone and email) and the workload is significant.

Future Course Changes

I’d like to require students to use The Everyday Writer and A Guide to Writing as an Engineer since those are required for some of their previous courses.  Also, I’m going to try the course management system Blackboard this summer.

Best Practices: Engineering

Course: EGGN 250/350/450 Multidisciplinary Engineering Lab I, II, and III
Course Type: 1 or 1.5-credit interdisciplinary lab course

Key Course Writing Features

  • Assignment Scaffolding (assignments build on previous ones)
  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Instructor serves as Coach
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Team Projects
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students finishing MEL III should be more independent life-long learners, critical thinkers, and more effective in applying engineering fundamentals to open-ended problems.  The MEL educational environment is designed to meet these goals by encouraging higher-level thinking skills and connecting engineering fundamentals and design.  By simulating industrial practice, the course should also

  • Have students actively learn the skills of efficient and accurate experimenters.
  • Encourage students to make connections between material from several courses.
  • Build subject matter competency in fundamental engineering science topics such as electrical circuits, fluid mechanics, stress analysis, dynamics, and thermodynamics.

Course Communication Goals

The course should help students

  • Enhance specific communications skills (e.g., enhance their ability to write lab notebooks and engineering reports and to communicate data via properly formatted graphs, etc.).
  • Enhance group and teamwork skills.

Writing Assignments

The progression of writing assignments mirrors the overall course progression in terms of complexity.  While students in MEL I write specs sheets and give short answers to small-scale, open-ended questions, MEL II students are writing memos and medium-scale engineering reports and keeping lab notebooks.  MEL III students are working on much more complex open-ended questions that warrant longer, more detailed lab notebooks and engineering reports.  Sixty percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments in MEL I, II, and III.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

This lab course mimics industrial practice by combining traditional disciplinary topics like electrical circuits, fluid flow, and material stress into integrated systems, so it requires students to integrate concepts from different courses.  Over the three-year sequence of MEL I-III, the design challenges, subject matter, thinking levels, and writing assignments become more sophisticated.   By MEL III, we are expecting longer, more complex reports that involve elaborate higher-order thinking skills and the ability to more clearly convey complex technical ideas.  Thus, students end MEL III more able to support claims with relevant data and to convey that data in appropriate formats.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

The material taught in the MEL sequence builds upon the foundation laid by the Engineering Design courses that students take in their first and second years at CSM (EPICS151 & EPICS251).  Like those courses, the MEL sequence requires and makes use of a key communications text, Beer and McMurray’s A Guide to Writing as an Engineer.The process of developing the reports in teams of three allows for more than teamwork.  When student teams turn in drafts of reports to instructors, the teams—especially by MEL III—are adept at revising their work without being told exactly how to do that.  So this iterative process allows them to rethink their writing and the content of each report, which contributes to developing their higher-order thinking.   One way the reports give instructors a window into the students’ critical thinking processes is by revealing the degree of complexity of logical connections among key concepts.

Student Responses to the Course

Although some students do not like the open-ended nature of the experiments, others do, and perhaps more significantly, alumni generally do; they note that MEL more closely mirrors on-the-job realities than many courses because it is interdisciplinary and open-ended.  In fact, students tend to dislike MEL I, tolerate MEL II, and like MEL III.  In retrospect, however, more alumni rate the three MEL courses as useful and realistic.

It is intriguing to note that, over time, MEL students are more able and willing to accept responsibility for their duties and role on the team and that leadership is distributed more uniformly within a team in MEL III than in MEL I, where a single “leader” is more common.

Future Course Changes

Depend on the outcome of a forthcoming course assessment process, which should tell us whether students are improving their writing.

Best Practices: Geology

Course: GEGN 403 Mineral Exploration Design
Course Type: One of GE’s capstone design courses, lecture/lab format

Key Course Writing Features

  • Assignment Scaffolding (assignments build on previous ones)
  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Peer Review
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students should finish this course with the knowledge to conduct many aspects of a mineral exploration project. These include the ability to develop a preliminary design model, select and evaluate target areas, request drilling programs, estimate resources, and assess preliminary economic viability.

Course Communication Goals

Students should be able to clearly convey their ideas orally and in writing about each component of their project.  They should revise their writing based on peer feedback on their first major report and instructor feedback on all reports.  Students should also be able to communicate effectively via graphical presentations.

Writing Assignments

Students complete four skill-building lab exercises involving 1) library research 2) budget preparation procedures 3) orientation survey and 4) investment analysis. Also, they write an initial major paper in which they characterize the target mineral deposit sought, six or seven short memos on their site, and a final synthesis/evaluation report that includes their recommendations for future work.  Fifteen to twenty percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

The writing assignments allow students to first develop the skills they need to conduct a mineral exploration program, and then apply this knowledge and their research knowledge to the writing of the paper on the mineral deposit.  The memos at the end of the course force students to evaluate site data, rank the various sites, and describe their rationale for selecting a site and for their recommendations on whether further work is economically and logistically sound.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

The series of assignments is iterative because it causes students to draft initial ideas, obtain feedback, and then revise their thinking.

Student Responses to the Course

Instructors and some students have noted the significant improvement in their technical analysis skills.  This course allows students to finally see how many of their previous courses interrelate and apply to an actual problem-solving situation.

Future Course Changes

More computer-based data processing. Also, perhaps adjusting the assignments in light of the number of students in the class to keep grading time consistent, and hoping for a TA who needs little training to assist in giving effective feedback to students on technical and writing components of the reports.

Best Practices: Geophysics

Course: GPGN 494 Physics of the Earth
Course Type: Lecture

Key Course Writing Features

  • Peer Review
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students completing this course should know more about the mathematical and physical underpinnings of solid Earth geophysics. They should also gain a knowledge of the currently accepted physical models used to describe the Earth’s interior and evolution. Finally, they should develop an appreciation for the ways in which solid Earth scientists make inferences from a variety of physical observations.

Course Communication Goals

Students should gain additional experience with oral presentation as well as with writing and peer reviewing papers.

Writing Assignments

Students write a 10-15 page paper on an aspect of solid Earth geophysics, including planetary geophysics, of interest to them (excluding exploration geophysics since they get a lot of that in other courses).  Twenty percent of the overall course grade is devoted to the writing assignment.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

The writing assignment gives them additional practice with both writing and peer review, and it also broadens their understanding of the vast array of topics in solid Earth geophysics since they also give an oral presentation on their paper topic.  This is useful since we cannot possibly cover all the topics of interest.  From this assignment, students sometimes develop new interests that can expand the range of possible career options they might pursue when they graduate.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

After having their topics approved before midterm, students write a draft of their paper for peer review; each student critiques and evaluates another student’s paper.  This process is intended to reflect the peer review process common to scientific journals and other publications.

The additional practice with standard written presentation and with conveying clear, legible, referenced figures is also useful.  Students must include sufficiently detailed figure captions so people not reading the paper can understand the relevance of the figure.  Providing detailed qualitative overviews of one particular aspect of solid Earth geophysics is good practice and creates in the class a forum for knowledge exchange.

Student Responses to the Course

Students like the course generally and this assignment in particular because it allows them to pursue one of their interests.  Course evaluations are higher than the departmental average and higher than other courses I teach.

Future Course Changes

In the past, I’ve taught this as a somewhat traditional course, but since the course has no post-requisites, I’d like to explore project-based learning and set up month-long lecture blocks that precede real projects that allow students to apply new knowledge to an open-ended problem.

Best Practices: Mathematics and Computer Science

Course: MACS 370 Field Course
Course Type: Six-credit field session design course

Key Course Writing Features

  • Assignment Scaffolding (assignments build on previous ones)
  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Field Session Course
  • Instructor serves as Coach
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Team Projects
  • Writing to Non-Academic Audiences
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students should finish this course with a complete design experience.  That includes the knowledge of how to complete all stages of a team design project, from understanding the client’s needs and the nature of the project to dividing labor according to individual strengths and managing the project to produce a result that meets the needs of the team, instructor, and client.  Students should finish the course having more experience with learning how to learn and with solving open-ended problems.

Course Communication Goals

Students must effectively communicate with other team members, the instructor, and the client to successfully complete the project.  They should know how to convey and receive information from these three diverse groups, and should be able to clearly convey complex ideas both orally and in writing.

Writing Assignments

Over the six weeks of the course, teams do at least one report each week, generally four written and three oral reports.  They begin by writing a report that defines the project, another that describes their design of the project, another that describes project implementation, and then a final report with an executive summary.  The final report includes a user’s manual and a programmer’s guide.  All other reports are interim progress reports.  Thirty percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

All of the assignments are moving the teams of 3-4 students toward the final product and final paper.   The oral and written reports allow students to report on the major phases of a real project, from design to implementation, testing to client satisfaction, and to receive feedback on their progress from the class, instructor, and sometimes the client.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

Initially, students write to distill out the essential issues of the project, then later to organize their thinking and communicate their rationale for selecting a particular design given the client’s unique needs.  Finally, they must convince the instructor, and more importantly the client, that the product meets the client’s criteria.

Student Responses to the Course

Students see how much they grow over the six weeks, especially in terms of their communication skills and their ability to solve an open-ended problem, which is not typical of much of their coursework.  Students also respond positively to the course because generally clients, in their final letter to the instructor, indicate satisfaction with the final product.  Also, sometimes students get job offers as a result of these contacts with clients. The students see that the stakes are high and generally rise to the occasion.

Future Course Changes

Soliciting international clients is a future goal. Through an NSF proposal, we’re hoping to partner with some clients in Hong Kong and actually have students go there to complete projects.  We’d also like additional readers so the students get more assistance with their writing.  At present, the department head is stepping in to read student reports so they get additional feedback.   Finally, with more students and a weaker economy, finding good commercial projects has become an increasing challenge for the instructors, so we’d like to find a way to address this issue.

Best Practices: Metallurgical and Materials Engineering

Course: MTGN 445 Mechanical Properties of Materials
Course Type: Four-credit lecture/lab course for seniors

Key Course Writing Features

  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Instructor serves as Coach
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Team Projects
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students completing this course should be able to apply knowledge of kinetics, microstructures, thermodynamics, and the mechanics of materials to understand the mechanical properties of materials.  As a result of this understanding, they should be able to better understand the behavior of materials.

Course Communication Goals

Students completing this course should be able to communicate complex concepts by presenting data, especially graphical data complemented by clear textual explanations of the data and its significance.   They should also augment their ability to determine what content should be included in lab reports as well as what should be omitted so the reports are concise and precise.

In their reports, students should also be able to convey ideas with a clear beginning, middle, and end, cogently connected by lucid transitions. Table and figure captions should convey the meaning of the graphical information unequivocally.  Students should also learn how to import graphical data from software that is tailored beyond the defaults—that is, not always dumped in as the software produced it but adapted so it conveys exactly what is intended and what the reader expects.Writing Assignments:
While all experiments are conducted in teams, all reports are written by individual students, who can share graphical information and results but not interpretations of the data.  Students write several short reports (1 page plus supporting graphics) and some long reports (3-4 pages plus supporting graphics and appendices if necessary). Thirty-three percent of the overall course grade is devoted to the writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

Conducting the lab experiments and writing the lab reports strengthen students’ ability to understand and interpret the mechanical properties of materials and to show the correlations between microstructures and material properties.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

The assignments give students an opportunity to synthesize and apply their knowledge of kinetics, microstructures, thermodynamics, and the mechanics of materials from previous coursework.  Through the assignments, they also learn how to interpret the behavior of certain materials and to evaluate lab data so it supports their conclusions.

Student Responses to the Course

Students do complain about the workload, which I have reduced in part because of those complaints and in part because of larger class sizes over the years.

Future Course Changes

I may have to continue to decrease the workload.  Also, I’d like to get students out of the plot-without-thought trap.  They need to learn to think more about the data, reflect on it, and not just click and import graphical data because they know how.

Best Practices: Mining Engineering

Course: MNGN 428/429 Senior Design I and II
Course Type: MN’s senior capstone design courses

Key Course Writing Features

  • Assignment Scaffolding (assignments build on previous ones)
  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Team Projects
  • Writing to Non-Academic Audiences
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students should be able to address and solve open-ended problems in a defined timeframe and apply prior knowledge to assist in solving these problems.

Course Communication Goals

Students should be able to clearly communicate their progress and results to their instructor; they should produce a final report that meets or exceeds the needs of the client.  They should also be able to clearly convey their final report results orally to Mining Department faculty and students.

Writing Assignments

Students write a proposal of their area of interest (e.g., surface coal mining, gold mining, aggregate and cement quarry operations, etc.) so they can be matched with an appropriate client and project whenever possible. After making the second contact with the client, students (generally in pairs) identify the nature, scope, and guidelines of the project.  They then write a proposal that describes their understanding of the project, a statement of project tasks, and a project timeline. Over the next two semesters, students are required to write progress report memos each time they arrive at a predefined point on the timeline; in these, they explain why they have or have not met the desired objective, state what resources they need to continue, and describe what they will do next.  Revised timelines are also submitted as needed. Students also do longer intermediate reports that serve as early drafts of sections that will be revised for their final reports. Fifty percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

The assignments encourage students to think and rethink their evolving conceptions of the problem and of multiple aspects of potential solutions since they must revisit these in many of the intermediate reports and progress memos.   They receive feedback from the instructor, or from the client when only the client possesses needed information, so they have revised the thinking behind their final draft multiple times before it is finally delivered to the instructor and to the client.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

Students have opportunities to apply knowledge from previous coursework to an actual, concrete case.  They see how knowledge of geology, mineralogy, petrology, mine design, mining methods, rock mechanics, process design, economic evaluation and more can be useful in solving a real problem in the mining industry.

This course has provided students with numerous and sometimes unexpected career options.  As a result of the senior design projects, some students have decided to focus their job searches in areas ranging from investment analysis and civil engineering to truck transportation and productivity.  For example, one student became so interested in and knowledgeable on truck productivity after working on a resource transportation project that he obtained a job with Caterpillar.  Other students have been hired to implement the very solutions they designed for this class.  Even when this does not occur, a student has a contact in the field who is familiar with the student’s work.Most projects are done by teams of two students, a few by groups of three and a small number by a single student, so students generally learn more about teamwork and collaboration.

Finally, the assignments help students convey complex technical ideas in a final oral presentation, which they give to all Mining Dept. faculty and students and which concludes with a question and answer session.

Student Responses to the Course

In both letters or emails I receive and from calls I make to alumni, it appears that students are pleased with the results of their senior design project and find the knowledge they gleaned directly applicable to their current careers.  It also appears that a majority of the clients are pleased with the work our students complete.

Future Course Changes

I will try to find ways to reduce the workload involved for the instructor; the time commitment of this course means we need to keep changing faculty members to prevent burnout.

Best Practices: Petroleum Engineering

Course: PEGN 311 Drilling Engineering
Course Type: MN’s senior capstone design courses

Key Course Writing Features

  • Assignment Scaffolding (assignments build on previous ones)
  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students should finish this course with expanded knowledge about—and the ability to apply that knowledge to—the challenges of drilling operations. To achieve this goal, students should be familiar with the basics of rig equipment and operations, pore pressure and fracture gradient determination, case setting depths, bits, bottom hole assemblies, drill pipe, directional drilling, drilling fluids, hydraulics, cuttings transport, and well control.

Course Communication Goals

Students should continue improving written and oral communications skills since these will be essential for practicing petroleum engineers.

Writing Assignments

After either attending the Society for Petroleum Engineering’s (SPE’s) Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition or doing their own research, students write about one type of drilling equipment or procedure that they encountered and that they think is new and/or unique to the field. They must explain the procedure or equipment, and most importantly evaluate why that procedure or equipment is unique. They turn in a 3 to 5-page manuscript and give their classmates an oral presentation on this new and/or unique contribution to the field, so we all end up more informed about the latest (and sometimes greatest) developments. Nine percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

Students get additional practice with written and oral presentations, and through their own findings and the oral presentations, they learn more about what’s hot in the field.  The equipment and procedures they unearth are often clearly connected to drilling concepts we have discussed in class, so they are elaborating their knowledge of those concepts.  Also, they have to have some background that the class provides to know why the procedure or equipment is unique.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

I’d like to increase the quality of the written products students turn in, so I have scaffolded the assignment across the semester to avoid last-minute work.  Generally, I read better papers than I would otherwise.  Students turn in an abstract of their paper about week eight, a detailed outline week 10, a rough draft that I give brief comments on in week 13, and the final paper is due week 15, when they give the oral presentations.

Also, from my students, I learn about new drilling equipment and procedures that can represent the latest and greatest in the business.  Their reports give me another avenue by which to keep current on what are sometimes important emerging developments.

The final purpose is so they become more familiar with SPE’s publication style guidelines–more practice with that never hurts.

Student Responses to the Course

While some students see the writing assignment as a chore, some always will.  Some write about highly intriguing developments, but it’s hard to gauge the overall level of enthusiasm.  The oral presentations are videotaped and students are required to critique their own presentations, and many find that useful.  Students may rank this course a bit lower now than they will once they are working in the field.

Future Course Changes

I might shift the assignment back so it comes due earlier in the semester. Students tend to be swamped at the end and don’t always do their best work. That would also allow me to give more timely feedback.

Best Practices: Physics

Course: PHGN 315 Advanced Physics Lab I
Course Type: 1-credit lab taken after PHGN300, Modern Physics III

Key Course Writing Features

  • Discipline-Specific Writing Skills
  • Open-Ended Problem Solving
  • Peer Review
  • Team Projects
  • Writing to Foster Higher-Order Thinking

Course Content Goals

Students should develop their understanding of and ability to conduct open-ended experiments in two areas of waves, geometric optics and physical optics.  Students should also finish the course as better critical thinkers about open-ended experiments.

Course Communication Goals

They should develop the thinking processes involved in generating lab reports and their knowledge of the content should improve from the act of writing the reports.

Writing Assignments

They write six five-page lab reports and one five-page design report; in the design report, they find ways to measure the wavelength of a microwave source.  All reports are done in groups of two; each pair can decide on the divisions of labor.   One hundred percent of the total course grade is devoted to writing assignments.

Connection between the Course Goals and Assignments

The course is designed to fill in some gaps not covered by PHGN300, and each lab report fosters critical thinking about geometric or physical optics.  The critical thinking and writing processes are interwoven because the act of writing the reports often exposes gaps in the students’ knowledge.  This process is iterative because they frequently have to return to data collection and then revise, collect more data, revise again, and so on, and this process fosters critical thinking.  Also, students have to understand the material on two levels—first well enough to make sense of it for themselves and then well enough to translate what they know into a document that is clear to readers. In doing so, they learn to better see what readers need.

So in each report they 1) explain their procedures, 2) provide a rationale for their experimental choices and in doing so convince me that they understood the parameters of the assignment and 3) convey their ideas clearly—and the latter is quite important and often a big challenge.

Other Specific Purposes of the Assignments

Beyond critical thinking, students learn some important written conventions for their discipline.  For example, they learn how to more effectively convey data in certain graphical formats, and they learn LaTeX, software often used in physics and math.  Although not planned, requiring LaTeX has fostered a great deal of peer revision and collaborative learning; many pairs of students write reports together in a physics lab area and frequently ask questions both of their partner and of other pairs.   A somewhat related final purpose is to reinforce the notion that just as they tune me out when I become obtuse in lecture, readers will want to tune them out if they are not clear in conveying ideas in the lab reports.

Student Responses to the Course

While some students have complained that the course is an excessive amount of work for one credit, individual students respond differently to the open-ended nature of the experiments. Some desperately want cookbook instructions that they can follow; they don’t want to have to run into dead ends and have to realign their strategy, collect more data, etc. Others find the open-endedness challenging and refreshing. Overall, judging by the number of rough drafts I get for review before the due date, I would say that most students truly want to do a good job.

Future Course Changes

In the future, I will try to provide more of the equipment necessary for their chosen designs.

Student Resources

Writing Tutorials

Connect to a variety of writing tutorials, including information on writing processes and types of writing: http://writing.colostate.edu/activities/

More Resources

Review further resources online through a generous agreement with Colorado State University: http://writing.colostate.edu/links/

Online Composition Handbook and Grammar Guide

Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) is developed and maintained by graduate students in their PhD program, and is one of the most up to date databases out there. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/

At Mines—The Arthur Lakes Library

The Arthur Lakes Library develops innovative services and facilities, provides access to and preserves knowledge, and enhances the learning, teaching, and research at Colorado School of Mines. http://library.mines.edu

Writing Program Faculty

Faculty Information

Allyce Horan

Writing Center Director
ahoran@mines.edu

Allyce Horan has worked in the Writing Center since 2013 where she has provided support to faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students on projects ranging from freshman essays to grant proposals. In addition to providing one-on-one tutoring, she has piloted programs in thesis formatting, T.A. training, and peer tutoring. Her interdisciplinary background includes an M.A. in History from Florida State University, certification in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and four years teaching the freshman core course, Nature and Human Values. Allyce has taught academic composition and ESL classes in which she encourages students to critically engage with content through oral and written communication activities. She is excited to work closely with members of the campus community to create new initiatives in the Writing Center that allow both students and faculty to reach their communication goals.

Professional Tutors:

Judy Griebling

ESL, Communications, and NHV/Composition
jgriebli@mines.edu

Judy Griebling has been a consultant in the Mines Writing Center since 2008 and enjoys helping students of all levels express themselves in academic writing. She has taught English to refugees and foreign students at the Community College of Denver, Colorado Christian University, Interlink Language Center, Jefferson County Public Schools, and in community-based English programs. Judy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and international affairs and a Master of Arts in Education with an English as a Second Language emphasis from the University of Colorado, along with many ESL teaching credentials earned over her long career.

Kathy O’Donnell

Technical/Scientific Writing, Communications, and Composition
keodonnell@mines.edu

Kathy enjoys assisting students with strategies for writing assignments–generating topics, labeling graphics, citing sources–and everything in between. She’s looking forward to working with you! At Metro State, Kathy has taught writing classes for engineering, computer science, and aviation students, drawing on her 16 years of technical writing experience. At Honeywell, she worked with SMEs on spec sheets, white papers, and product catalogs. Kathy’s projects involved working with AutoCAD drawing files, Visio and Illustrator software, and table design to enhance files for publication. Kathy is a member of IEEE’s Professional Communication Society and has presented at communication conferences. Her PhD in Technical Communication, Illinois Institute of Technology, focused on scientific illustration in early science writing. Kathy continues to teach writing part-time at MSU Denver.

Gretchen Hack

ESL, Composition, and Communications
Gretchen.Hack@ccd.edu

Gretchen Hack is not a “hack” writer but in fact a published author in various venues, including a writing teachers’ journal, a small newspaper, and religious publications. Gretchen will help you write to any audience, keeping your attention focused on purpose, rhetorical sophistication, and intent. She graduated from Valparaiso, Indiana with a B.A. in English and Spanish, from University of Colorado-Denver (UCD) with an M.A. in English, and has taught English composition at UCD and other area colleges since 1988. Currently she teaches Advanced ESL Composition and Reading part-time at Community College of Denver. When you come for tutoring with her, please teach her how to say “hello” in your native language – she wants to be hospitable!

Kait McNamee

Composition, NHV, and Science and Medical Writing
kmcnamee@mines.edu

Kait holds a BA in English/Creative Writing and an MA in English/Literature. She taught Core Composition I at CU Denver and specializes in science and medical writing, MLA and APA citation, thesis development, and brainstorming.