Communication skills are critical for engineering students to succeed in a wide variety of careers. This necessity is recognized by ABET in student outcome 3 “an ability to communicate effectively with a range of audiences” (1). Despite this, students may not view written communication skills as an important skill for engineers. Technical writing instruction and practice is often implemented in undergraduate laboratory courses where students write standard lab reports (abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion) that most closely resemble a scientific journal article. In an effort to demonstrate to students how they might communicate about experimental data in different ways and to prompt them to consider communicating data to a range of audiences and for varying purposes, we developed alternative lab report assignments for a biomedical engineering laboratory course offered to sophomore undergraduates. In addition to developing written communication skills, the writing assignments were designed to demonstrate to students how they might write in careers in the biotech industry. Here we describe the implementation of alternative lab reports for a Cell and Tissue Engineering lab course. The course is designed in four modules with each having an associated written report. For each of the four reports, students are presented with a scenario where they might collect data on one of four biologicals: a plasmid, a mammalian cell line, a drug, and an engineered enzyme. For each of these biologicals, students prepare a different type of technical report to share and discuss their data. Students complete a validation report where they are tasked with validating features of a plasmid, a product report where they are tasked with describing a mammalian cell line with associated protocols, a quality report where they prove that an engineered enzyme has better kinetics than the non-engineered version, and finally a standard lab report where students describe experiments on a “novel” drug they are characterizing. Presented here is the implementation of the report structure, associated rubric used for all reports, limitations, and preliminary student feedback.
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