It is a common, puzzling, and often disheartening experience for teachers at all levels to realize that they may have little credibility in the eyes of their students, especially regarding the applicability of the lessons taught in the classroom to 'real world' situations. This paper analyzes the results of using a reflective writing/research paper in a freshman engineering design course to assist students in making real world connections to classroom topics. In addition to writing a standard research paper on topics related to engineering design, students were required to write a personal reflection on the assignment before and after its completion. Comparisons of these pre-assignment and post-assignment reflections show a substantial shift in the students' attitudes toward the credibility of their instructor and the choice of curriculum and topics for the course. The results also show that students spent time in metacognitive reflection on their own beliefs about the applicability of course work to the world of the working engineer. While not every student experienced these attitude shifts, review of these papers did show a substantial enough positive shift occurred through this writing process to promote further research in this area.
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