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A Transdisciplinary Approach for Developing Effective Communication Skills in a First-year STEM Seminar

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication Across the Divisions II: Communication and Transdisciplinary Pedagogies

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.127.1 - 26.127.12



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Paper Authors


Jeffrey J. Evans Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Jeffrey J. Evans received his BS from Purdue University and his MS and PhD in Computer Science from the Illinois Institute of Technology. His research interests are in artificial intelligence for music composition and performance and adaptive computing systems, focusing on the effects of subsystem interactions on application performance. He is a member of the ASEE, ACM and a Senior Member of the IEEE.

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Amy S. Van Epps Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Amy S. Van Epps is an associate professor of Library Science and Engineering Librarian at Purdue University. She has extensive experience providing instruction for engineering and technology students, including Purdue’s first-year engineering program. Her research interests include finding effective methods for integrating information literacy knowledge into the undergraduate engineering curriculum. Prof. Van Epps has a BA in engineering science from Lafayette College, her MSLS from Catholic University of America, a M.Eng. in Industrial Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is currently working on her PhD in Engineering Education at Purdue.

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Michael Thomas Smith


Sorin Adam Matei Purdue University Polytechnic Institute

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Dr. Matei was educated at Bucharest University (BA in History and Philosophy), Tufts University (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, MA in International Relations), and University of Southern California (Annenberg School for Communication, PhD in Communication). He is currently an Associate Professor of Communication at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Indiana and Chief Ideamonger at Ideagora (, a new media company he has founded in 2008. He is one of the Purdue Discovery Park Research Fellows and a Purdue Polytechnic Institute Fellow.

His greatest passion is to understand how real and virtual spaces and groups are connected and how these connections can be made more truthful and productive. He is the leader of the NSF funded project KredibleNet, whose goal is to set the agenda for computational social science analysis of authorship, leadership, trust and credibility in knowledge markets. He has published papers and developed software that aim to make this into a reality. Among the tools he has created are:

Visible Effort:
Visible Past:

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Esteban Garcia

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A Transdisciplinary Approach for Developing Effective Communication Skills in a First Year STEM Seminar Abstract Many STEM graduates leave school academically prepared in their fields, however business leaders have been stating that they often lack the more intangible qualities such as teamwork, critical thinking, communication skills, and ability to manage in- terpersonal relations. These are often referred to as ”soft skills”, yet they are tightly coupled with professional performance. Futhermore, they are all connected to basic communication skills, commonly referred to as oral and written communication, and their close counterparts, listening and reading. Such skills are not only add ons to a STEM job, they can make the difference between a successful and a failing career, team, or even corporation. In the last decade there have been efforts such as those by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to advance broad- based systemic innovation to build and sustain strong undergraduate education in the STEM fields. Our group is in the early stages of an innovative initiative to provide alternative communication and humanities learning environments in STEM higher education. The group consists of faculty from several academic units including liberal arts, li- braries, and technology. One of the learning experiences currently being tested in- volves the tight coupling of all forms of interpersonal communication, and information literacy with technological concepts. These are integrated into a learning experience aimed to develop the capacities of interpersonal communication and social and cul- tural awareness in a seminar environment. This paper will describe the design of a seminar learning experience called Cul- ture, Communication, and Digital Narratives. On the surface, its purpose has the ap- pearance of combining oral and written communication with information literacy and technology. However the seminar is much more, promoting storytelling as a way of thinking. Our value proposition is that artistic storytelling can help students learn, cre- ate, and communicate. The goals of the learning experience include enabling learners to more effectively discover creative ideas, understand themselves and other people (audiences), and communicate about them in a storytelling fashion, using performa- tive and mediated techniques. As such, we have created a transdisciplinary, studentand project-driven learning experience that enables students to communicate effec-tively, and function in a professional context. All activities are structured into modules that combine oral, written, and performa-tive communication. Students are immersed in both classical and contemporary theo-ries and methods of communication. They learn on how to use ethos, logos and pathosoriented messages, in the manner prescribed by Aristotle. They learn how to usecultural and intellectual meta-thinking for avoiding ethnocentric and biased messageproduction. Students learn about these concepts by doing. They tell stories, engage inethnographies, critique email correspondence or creating arguments via oral, written,video and auditory production. All projects are evaluated through a continuous pro-cess of feedback. We do not use a traditional grading method, Instead, each projectcontributes to acquiring a specific set of competencies. When the project deliverablesdemonstrates that the competencies are mastered, students are awarded ”badges” thatcertify mastery. We adopted the successful Open Passport Badging System adapted byour university from the Open Badge Platform initiated by the Mozilla Foundation. Wewill describe our process of generating communication competencies from AAC&Uinspired rubrics, and how these were mapped to learning outcomes, learning activi-ties, and badges in the seminar environment. We will address the flexible strategiesneeded to manage the notions of time, place, or pace of learning. We will also presentour findings from our first cohort, currently immersed in the seminar learning envi-ronment. The paper will present our suggestions for improvements of the seminarlearning process. 2

Evans, J. J., & Van Epps, A. S., & Smith, M. T., & Matei, S. A., & Garcia, E. (2015, June), A Transdisciplinary Approach for Developing Effective Communication Skills in a First-year STEM Seminar Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23468

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