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An International Study of the Teaching and Learning of Communication: Investigating Changes in Self-Efficacy in Four Undergraduate Engineering Programs

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Communication Across the Divisions I

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Lori Breslow Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Lori Breslow is the founding director emeritus of the Teaching & Learning Laboratory (TLL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An internationally recognized expert in teaching and learning in higher education, she conducts research on the development, diffusion, and assessment of educational innovation, particularly in science and engineering.

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Christina Kay White Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Dr. Christina White is currently a postdoctoral engineering education research associate with Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Innovation Centre. She completed her Doctoral degree from Teachers College, Columbia University where she studied engineering education. She is the Global Chair and founding director of the National Academy of Engineering Longhorn Grand Challenges Scholars & K12 Partners Program at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. White is also the director of an outreach program called Design, Technology, & Engineering for All Children (DTEACh) which has reached more than 1000 teachers and 85,000 students. She is the lead inventor on a patent for assistive technology. Her current research includes global competencies, innovative design-based pedagogy, humanitarian engineering, and ways to attract and retain traditionally underrepresented groups in engineering education.

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Daniel E. Hastings Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Professor Hastings is currently the Director and CEO of the Singapore MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART). He earned a Ph.D. and an S.M, from MIT in Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1980 and 1978 respectively, and received a B.A. in Mathematics from Oxford University in England in 1976. He joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in 1985, advancing to associate professor in 1988 and full professor in 1993. He has been a visiting scholar at the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Singapore University of Technology and Design, Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Science and Technology Policy Institute.

As a professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics & Engineering Systems, Professor Hastings has taught courses and seminars in plasma physics, rocket propulsion, advanced space power and propulsion systems, aerospace policy, technology and policy, and space systems engineering. His teaching has ranged from freshman classes to doctoral seminars.

His research has spanned five areas. He has worked in laser material interactions, fusion plasma physics, spacecraft plasma environment interactions, space plasma thrusters and space systems analysis and design. He has published over 120 papers and written a book on spacecraft environment interactions. He has chapters in several other books. He has won five best paper awards. His recent work has been on complex aerospace system design including work on beyond first use properties.

Professor Hastings is a Fellow of three professional societies, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA; for his work on spacecraft plasma environment interactions), the International Astronautical Federation (IAF; for his work on space plasma thrusters effects) and the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE; for his work on Space systems analysis and Engineering Education).
He has worked on national committees on Engineering Education including the NAE Board on Engineering Education and the NAE Engineer of 2020 study. He was the co-lead of a study on engineering education while serving on the National Science Board. He has spoken on Engineering Education all over the world.

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INTRODUCTION: As society grows more global and interconnected, the challenges that must be addressed by the next generation of engineers are becoming more complex [1-2]. Engineering education is called upon to foster the development of 21st century skills, in addition to teaching deep technical expertise, both of which are needed to lead companies and help communities [3-4]. Reports highlight how crucial communication skills are for engineers [3-8]. This study explores four specific communication capabilities: writing, developing and delivering presentations, visual literacy, and participating in teams and how those communication capabilities develop throughout undergraduate engineering programs. This study investigates the change in self-efficacy in communication between freshmen and senior undergraduate engineers. It includes data from four universities located in the United States and in Asia. We report on changes in confidence between freshmen and senior year, commonalities in students’ self-efficacy for these skills, what they perceive their weaknesses to be, and their goals for strengthening their abilities.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS: We hypothesize that students in at varying stages of their academic journey as well as in diverse pedagogical and cultural contexts will report different levels of self-efficacy in communication capabilities. To test our hypothesis, we used mixed methods data collection with a self-efficacy survey for freshmen and senior students. Our specific research question is: In what ways do differences in institutional educational approaches and cultural contexts impact: a. Students’ self-efficacy in communication capabilities? b. Students’ change in self-efficacy for communication capabilities from their (entrance) freshman year as compared to their (graduation) senior year?

METHODOLOGY: We are interested in exploring students’ perceptions of communication, including the value they place on communication and their self-efficacy for communication skills. According to Bandura [5], success is not only based on the possession of necessary skills, it also requires the confidence to use these skills effectively. We also seek to understand students’ perceptions of the task value of communication.

We use five different data collection techniques: (1) an inventory of the types and frequency of communication experiences and assignments; (2) student surveys to measure self-efficacy for communication with results from a survey administered at the beginning of the students’ course of study compared to results from a survey of seniors; (3) a faculty survey to gauge their confidence in their abilities to teach communication skills and the value they place on communication; (4) stud focus groups; and (5) observations. Our larger research study explores the teaching and learning of those four communication capabilities previously listed but this paper focuses specifically on the findings of the student surveys that indicate changes in self-efficacy between the freshmen year and the senior year.

RESULTS: We analyze the data from the student survey to indicate the level of self-efficacy for communication skills between the freshmen year and the senior year, between genders, pedagogy, and cultures. We include quantitative and qualitative results to support the trends identified. It provides an opportunity for engineering faculty across institutions and internationally to compare effective pedagogical practices and ways of measuring learning for 21st century skills [3-8].

Breslow, L., & White, C. K., & Hastings, D. E. (2016, June), An International Study of the Teaching and Learning of Communication: Investigating Changes in Self-Efficacy in Four Undergraduate Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26223

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015