Research & Academic Writing Assessment (Portfolio)
Research Academic Writing Assessment (Portfolio)
In order to report and document well, scientific and engineering professionals systematically collect, evaluate and synthesize the work of their peers with their own. The product of such effort is a technical report or scientific paper that reviews the existing body of knowledge, presenting it in a logical and ordered manner. This obviates the need for introducing undergraduate science and engineering students to the skill of technical reporting and scientific writing.
Today it is usual for students to encounter in their final year of studies a large project and/or an industry report that requires a technical written submission illustrating the appropriate collection, evaluation, critical analysis and incorporation of current scientific literature with their own work. As Brackley (1999) comments, lecturing staff, often mistakenly, assume that their students already possess the necessary synthesis and essay-writing skills needed to produce final-year reports. Yet, in many undergraduate science and engineering degrees there is little or no practice of technical and scientific writing, thus many students lack the necessary skill to document well. Brackley (1999) also notes that this problem is further compounded for students who are not native speakers of English. One way to improve on this situation is to set essays on scientific topics as assessment tasks, prior to students attempting their final year of studies. To complete such an assessment successfully, a student needs to take several steps. Firstly, they must systematically collect and read related material. This material is usually presented in a scientific or technical style in that it is ordered and logical in approach, and where claims are supported by evidence and referenced by citation. After the appropriate reading, critical evaluation takes place and some materials will be discarded. The remaining references will be synthesized with the author's own understanding of the topic into the essay. It is expected that the essay will contain a relevant discussion of the student's research and conclusions will be drawn. The essay needs to be written in the scientific genre, i.e. in a style similar to the collected scientific research material. We will refer to this type of essay as a science literature review essay for the remainder of the paper. Just as technical reports and scientific papers undergo peer review before publication, it was decided that these science literature review essays should also be peer reviewed. Therefore the breadth of student experience is expanded as students are exposed not only to published scientific material but also to the writings of their classmates who are attempting the same assessment. This paper reports on the introduction of a peer-assessed, science literature review essay, in an undergraduate Computer Science subject. This exercise was an attempt to develop and practise scientific writing skills in second-year students. Historically in the humanities, essay writing and examinations are the two main methods whereby students are assessed at university (McDowell, 1995; Smith et al., 1999). In fact, as Brackley (1999) notes, writing is the 'the key process to induct students into ...