June 23, 2013
June 23, 2013
June 26, 2013
23.234.1 - 23.234.14
Authenticity Promotes Student Engagement and Learning in a Stand-Alone Technical Communications CourseTechnical Communications for Chemical Engineers has recently been re-introduced to the chemicalengineering undergraduate curriculum at a large public university on the west coast. The goal of thecourse is for students to gain skills in written, oral, and interpersonal communications that will helpthem excel in their careers and in senior-level capstone design and laboratory courses. The course runsas a one-semester, stand-alone course (not coupled to a complementary technical or laboratory course)with assignments ranging from laboratory reports, design reports, resumes, cover letters, interviews,technical presentations, and project proposals to communication with lay audiences. This paper takes acase study approach to examine the evolution of the laboratory report assignment over the course ofthree semesters. We found that incorporating additional authenticity into laboratory report writingassignment motivated student engagement and learning. Instructor observations, samples of studentwork, and mid-term and final course evaluations are used as data to reflect on the effectiveness of threeiterations of the assignment: Phase 1-Common Topic; Data from physical experiment conducted by an unknown student Phase 2-Individual Topic; Data from physical experiment conducted by the student in a previous course Phase 3-Common Topic; Data from simulation conducted by the student in this courseInstructor observations and student feedback demonstrate the importance of engaging the student inall stages of the experiment, including collection of data. The utilization of a simulation allowed for theincorporation of authenticity into the course, while respecting the time and other constraints of a stand-alone technical communications course. This approach is being extended to other assignments in thecourse, with more authentic assignments being implemented for the design and proposal topics. Thiswill complement the assignments for resumes, cover letters, and lay audience presentations thatalready provide a “real-world” application of the students’ work. This methodology can be applied toother stand-alone technical communications courses in engineering, to provide meaningful context andmotivation.
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