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Communication Across Divisions: Overview, Trends, and Implications Based on the ASEE 2015 Conference

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 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


Kathryn A. Neeley University of Virginia

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Kathryn Neeley is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the Engineering & Society Department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. She is a past chair of the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division of ASEE and is particularly interested in the role of liberal education in developing engineering leaders and innovators.

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Judith Shaul Norback Georgia Institute of Technology

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Judith Shaul Norback, PhD, is general faculty and Director of Workplace and Academic Communication in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Georgia Tech. She applies her skills as a social psychologist to gather data from executives about stellar presentations and other oral communication skills and she conducts research on communication, to improve instruction for both undergraduates and PhD students. Dr. Norback has developed and provided instruction for students in industrial and biomedical engineering and has advised on oral communication instruction at other universities. Since she founded the Presentation Coaching Program in 2003, the coaching has had over 41,000 student visits. As of winter 2015, she shared her instructional materials, including a scoring system evaluated for reliability, with over 400 schools from the U.S., Australia, Germany, and South Korea. Dr. Norback has studied communication and other basic skills in the workplace and developed curriculum over the past 30 years—first at Educational Testing Service; then as part of the Center for Skills Enhancement, Inc., which she founded, with clients including the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Skill Standards Board, and universities. Since arriving at Georgia Tech in 2000 her work has focused on oral communication for engineering students and engineers. Dr. Norback has published over 20 articles in the past decade alone, in the ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, INFORMS Transactions on Education, and the International Journal of Engineering Education, and others. She authored the book Oral Communication Excellence for Engineers and Scientists, published in summer 2013. Over the past 15 years Dr. Norback has given over 40 conference presentations and workshops at nation-wide conferences such as ASEE, where she has served as chair of the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society (LEES) Division. She has been an officer for the Education Forum of INFORMS and has served as Associate Chair for the National Capstone Design Conference. Dr. Norback has a Bachelors’ degree from Cornell University and a Masters and PhD from Princeton University. Her current research interests include 1) clarifying the effectiveness of video distribution and the use of exit tickets in oral communication instruction for engineers, 2) identifying the mental models engineering students use when creating graphical representations, and 3) learning the trends and themes represented in the communication-related papers across various divisions of ASEE. As part of this effort, Norback is working with Kay Neeley of U of VA to start an ASEE Communication across Divisions Community, now numbering 80 people.

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Communication across Divisions: Trends Emerging from Papers Presented at the 2015 Annual Conference of ASEE

Since the early twentieth century, communication has been a pervasive concern and common interest of engineering educators. At the 2015 Annual Conference of the ASEE, 31 papers dealt with some aspect of communication. Six sessions were devoted entirely to communication, four in the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division (LEES), and one each in Chemical Engineering and Educational Research Methods. There was also one sponsored technical session devoted to communication. There were thirteen divisions other than LEES that had at least one paper on communication in their program or co-sponsored a session on communication.

These numbers provide evidence of a common interest in engineering communication, but they also reflect the fragmentation of the scholarly conversation. The paper proposed here seeks to create some coherence in that conversation while at the same time highlighting the diversity of approaches and range of expertise that are relevant to research and teaching in engineering communication. Specifically, it uses papers presented at the 2015 annual conference as its evidence base. As the numbers above suggest, we have already conducted some quantitative analysis of the papers. We have also begun qualitative analysis of trends such as these:

1. A pervasive tendency toward quantification of the effectiveness of various teaching strategies, usually called “interventions.” Most of the studies reported at the conference are in the early stages of implementation with limited data sets that tend to show limited impact. Three areas in particular merit attention: a. The difficulty of measuring the outcomes we are really interested in, for example, the kinds and numbers of comments students make in peer critique versus the kinds of changes that students actually make in response to comments. b. A reliance on course evaluations and other forms of student self-reporting, as opposed to using the students’ performance and work products as evidence. c. Tenuous connections between the data gathered and conclusions reached, or conclusions so general that they are not very useful and not easily distinguished from the assumptions that underlie the instructional strategy. 2. A tremendous among of effort being devoted to the creation of rubrics for the evaluation of student work. Rubrics are a standard component of evaluation and a key link in the feedback loop through which assessment improves instruction. The papers presented at the 2015 Annual Conference suggest the following opportunities and challenges: a. The opportunity to share rubrics and knowledge about how to create and validate them. To what extent does the value of a rubric derive from what instructors articulate and discover in the process of developing the rubric? Can rubrics be transferred easily from one context to another? b. The challenges created by i. Adequately capturing the complexity of what constitutes effective communication ii. Creating cognitive overload by providing too much detail iii. Moving from the specific characteristics of strength in a particular assignment to the generalization that allows students to transfer knowledge from one assignment to another

The paper will provide a comprehensive view of the trends emerging from last year’s conference papers on communication. Having a clear view of these trends should create a focus for discussion and information exchange among the broad community engaged in researching and teaching engineering communication. It should also help establish priorities for further research and institutional investments.

Neeley, K. A., & Norback, J. S. (2016, June), Communication Across Divisions: Overview, Trends, and Implications Based on the ASEE 2015 Conference Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26517

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