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“Breakthrough Into Performance”: How Understanding Communication As Performance Can Transform Teaching, Learning, Assessment And Curriculum

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1461.1 - 11.1461.14



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Paper Authors

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Richard Evans

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Jerry Gabriel Cornell University

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

“Breakthrough into Performance”: How Understanding Communication as Performance Can Transform Teaching, Learning, Assessment and Curriculum


The Engineering Communications Program (ECP) in the College of Engineering at Cornell University is gradually integrating a new understanding of communication. That understanding is technical and professional communication as performance. It is particularly responsive to many of the difficulties related to establishing an effective communications curriculum. First, it offers engineering faculty a common understanding of communication. Second, through focusing on those elements shared by all communicative performances – genre, context, identity, and purpose – it enables faculty to adapt their instructional approach in ways that acknowledge the diversity of possible performances while maintaining coherence. Third, it allows faculty to employ a useful methodology, discourse analysis, for doing assessment as educational research. This paper presents communication as performance, offers discourse analysis as a methodology for researching those performances, and suggests how communicative performance, when matched with discourse analysis, can provide a dynamic model for a new communications curriculum that emerges from within the community of practice that is engineering.

Keywords: communication, performance, community of practice, discourse analysis, assessment, curriculum.

Communication as an Individual Skill

The metaphor that describes communication as a “skill” has dominated our ways of thinking about the teaching of communication, perhaps more importantly, communication itself for over a century1, 2, 3, 4. Consequently, our academic institutions, to the extent that they address issues related to communication instruction – most notably, reading and writing, speaking (oral presentations) and talking (cooperative/collaborative group/team work) – make four assumptions: 1) that communication is an individual skill; 2) that that skill can be separated from the knowledge and/or understanding of a particular subject, area, or field; 3) that that skill is both discrete and generalizable; and 4) that, as a skill, communication can be mastered5.

Evans, R., & Gabriel, J. (2006, June), “Breakthrough Into Performance”: How Understanding Communication As Performance Can Transform Teaching, Learning, Assessment And Curriculum Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--377

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