June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Educational Research and Methods
14.198.1 - 14.198.13
An Innovative Model for Teaching Communications Skills In the Engineering Curriculum Key Words: Communication, ABET, Recognition, Assessment
In 2005, two events occurred that provided the university with an opportunity to create an innovative model for teaching communication skills in the undergraduate engineering curriculum. The first was a restructuring of the English department resulting in the loss of substantial number of instructors who had taught lower-level composition courses. This made it difficult for our engineering students to obtain technical writing skills demanded by ABET and prospective employers. The second was the creation of a campus-wide communication initiative enabled by a grant from a generous alumnus. A key element of this program dictated that communication skills be integrated into existing courses in the various disciplines. During the ensuing three years, these two events have evolved into an innovative, sustainable model that has yielded substantial benefits for our university, the engineering faculty, and our students.
At the start of our initiative, reservations voiced include such concerns as loss of technical content in the engineering course, workload increase for both students and engineering faculty, and value of results. Meeting these concerns required the development of an intensive workshop for designated faculty, creation of a facility staffed with dedicated professionals and equipped with specialized equipment, and other support mechanisms.
Analysis has shown that the university’s investment in the various elements of our current program compare quite favorably with the costs associated with the number of instructors previously used in teaching writing. Looking beyond the fiscal comparisons, it has been observed that a significant number of additional benefits accrued with this model integrating communication into designated engineering courses of each department. Whereas the previous model focused only on writing, this new approach takes a broader view of communication including an oral and a visual element. Rather than being taught as a general education course across campus, the integrated format for teaching these skills now engages the engineering faculty in a collaborative environment with resources drawn from within the College of Engineering.
We have used a variety of approaches to assess the success of our initiative, including student evaluations, faculty survey, and an external advisory council. Our initial observations, drawn over a three-year period in Senior Capstone Courses, are that students’ understanding of the technical content has increased in the communication-intensive courses. It seems that students’ efforts to communicate technical aspects of their designs, have required better understanding of these aspects, especially when the students are challenged during their oral presentations. Feedback from design review panels and external advisory councils during this same timeframe have been consistently confirming increases in the quality of communication skills for our graduates. These positive results are complemented by data drawn from in house surveys that have clearly shown positive acceptance of this model by both faculty and students.
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