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Authenticity Promotes Student Engagement and Learning in a Stand-Alone Technical Communications Course

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Using Communication and Writing Techniques to Improve Student Learning

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.234.1 - 23.234.14



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Paper Authors


Shannon Ciston University of California, Berkeley

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Dr. Shannon Ciston is a lecturer in the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches courses in technical communications, first-year design, and pedagogy. Dr. Ciston holds degrees in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University and Illinois Institute of Technology. Her research interests include aspects of engineering student experience, identity, and motivation, especially among first-year students and non-traditional adult students.

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Sean Poust University of California-Berkeley

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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.

Ciston, S., & Poust, S. (2013, June), Authenticity Promotes Student Engagement and Learning in a Stand-Alone Technical Communications Course Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19248

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