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Assessing Students' Oral Communication Skills

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

ERM Potpourri II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.273.1 - 12.273.10



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Paper Authors


Mieke Schuurman Pennsylvania State University

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Engineering Education Research Associate with Penn State's Office of Undergraduate Studies and International Programs in the College of Engineering.

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Dennis Gouran Pennsylvania State University

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Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences with Penn State's Department of Communication Arts and Sciences in the College of the Liberal Arts.

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Laura L. Pauley Pennsylvania State University

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Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Professor-in-Charge of Undergraduate Programs with Penn State's Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering in the College of Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Assessing Students' Oral Communication Skills


Many reports have indicated that engineering graduates have poor communication skills.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 However, communication skills are often not the focus of those who teach engineering courses. Since the introduction of the new ABET criteria, many engineering programs have tried in various ways to incorporate communication skills in their curricula.7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Engineering students at The Pennsylvania State University are required to take a Speech Communication course as part of their general education requirements. Co-op and internship evaluation and alumni survey data suggest that the current Speech Communication course does not adequately develop engineering students’ communication skills for the workforce. Recently, the Engineering Cooperative Education and Professional Internship Program, the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering and the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences have teamed up to develop a section of this Speech Communication course geared specifically to engineering. To develop requirements for the content of such a course, we reviewed the literature and conducted a follow-up survey with our co-op and internship employers who indicated on the evaluation forms that communication skills needed improvement. We asked employers to rank oral communication competencies according to the extent that they need improvement. The four highest rated competencies were organizing the communication, displaying sufficient general knowledge about the topic, showing confidence, and adjusting to the audience. Many publications have described competencies that students should acquire to become good communicators 13, 14, 15. Based on the employer input and communication skills literature, we believe that the following competencies are core to oral communications: (a) Content-development skills, i.e., competence in ideation generation, amplification, and organization; (b) Presentation skills, i.e., competence in generating interest, sustaining attention, using appropriate language, and being clear 14; (c) Receptive skills, i.e., listening and interpretive competence; and (d) Audience analysis skills. The Speech Communication course for engineers will aim to improve these competencies.

Because we aim to make educational improvements, we will need to assess the effectiveness of those improvements. Therefore, the next step of the project was to find a valid and reliable instrument to assess these oral communication skill sets. A review of pertinent literature did not reveal an instrument that focused on these four skill sets. Therefore, we developed our own, building on existing work, and piloted it with engineering co-op and internship students and their employers.

Oral Communication Skills Assessment

To develop an instrument for assessing oral communication skills, we examined existing instruments in the fields of speech communication and engineering education. The College of Engineering at Iowa State University (ISU) has developed its own ABET-aligned workplace competencies instrument. 16 The method of development was constituents-based. Their main

Schuurman, M., & Gouran, D., & Pauley, L. L. (2007, June), Assessing Students' Oral Communication Skills Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2834

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