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Communication as Both the Ultimate Interdisciplinary Subject and a Field of Specialization Encompassing More Than Technical Writing: Communication Instruction Across Divisions

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Conference

2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015

ISBN

978-0-692-50180-1

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Communication Across the Divisions II: Communication and Transdisciplinary Pedagogies

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count

7

Page Numbers

26.365.1 - 26.365.7

DOI

10.18260/p.23704

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/23704

Download Count

105

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Paper Authors

biography

Kathryn A. Neeley University of Virginia

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Kathryn Neeley is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the Department of Engineering & Society in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. She is a past chair of the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division and winner of the Sterling Olmsted Award for outstanding contributions to liberal education for engineers.

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Abstract

Communication as Both the Ultimate Interdisciplinary Subject and a Field of Specialization Encompassing More Than Technical Writing: Communication Instruction Across Divisions     What  we  have  here  is  a  failure  to  communicate.               -­‐-­‐Strother  Martin,  Cool  Hand  Luke  (1967)      As  Strother  Martin's  ironic  and  oft-­‐repeated  assessment  illustrates,  communication  is  a  field  dominated  by  truisms.  At  one  level,  this  phenomenon  is  simply  a  manifestation  of  the  claim  made  by  John  Durham  Peters  (Speaking  to  the  Air:  A  History  of  the  Idea  of  Communication,  1999)  that  '"Communication"  is  one  of  the  characteristic  concepts  of  the  twentieth  century’  (p.  1).  But  communication  is  also  widely  perceived-­‐-­‐both  within  and  outside  of  engineering-­‐-­‐as  a  common  and  particularly  thorny  problem  for  engineers.  It  has  also  traditionally  been  one  of  the  only  non-­‐technical  fields  that  engineering  faculty  are  inspired  to  teach.  It  takes  no  more  than  a  cursory  examination  of  the  program  of  any  annual  conference  of  the  American  Society  for  Engineering  Education  to  recognize  communication  as  a  pervasive  concern  and  common  interest  of  the  many  and  diverse  divisions  and  interest  groups  that  make  up  ASEE.      On  the  other  hand,  the  teaching  of  communication,  especially  writing  and  speaking,  is  commonly  viewed  as  the  domain  of  English  majors.  For  example,  the  original  name  of  the  ASEE  division  that  is  now  Liberal  Education  &  Engineering  and  Society  was  "Engineering  English."  From  the  beginning,  people  who  were  involved  with  the  division  saw  the  teaching  of  communication  as  something  much  broader  than  English  grammar  and  composition,  but  this  broader  view  has  not  been  easy  to  convey  to  people  outside  of  English.  This  difficulty  is  reflected  in  the  suggestion,  for  example,  that  a  humanist  or  social  scientist  could  be  a  useful  member  of  a  research  team  because  she  could  edit  the  documents  the  group  produces.  In  a  similar  vein  but  opposite  direction,  many  engineering  educators,  including  those  in  the  humanities  and  social  sciences,  are  unaware  that  written  and  spoken  communication  are  fields  of  rigorous  research  and  scholarly  publication.  From  this  perspective,  one  might  argue  that  all  academics  write  and  speak,  presumably  well  (or  at  least  adequately),  and  are  thus  qualified  to  teach  communication.    We  are  faced  with  a  problem  of  reconciling  the  near-­‐universal  interest  in  communication  within  engineering  education  with  a  corresponding  recognition  of  communication  as  both  a  field  of  specialization  and  as  the  ultimate  interdisciplinary  subject,  that  is,  a  subject  to  which  virtually  all  disciplines  are  relevant,  though  often  in  ways  that  are  not  obvious.  Peters  reflects  this  perspective  when  he  argues  that  the  "philosophically  richest  thinking  about  communication  .  .  .  is  often  found  in  those  who  make  little  use  of  the  word"  (p.  7).  This  paper  will  use  the  history  of  the  idea  of  communication  and  the  history  of  the  teaching  of  communication  as  a  concern  of  the  ASEE  to  develop  an  approach  for  understanding  communication  as  both  the  ultimate  interdisciplinary  subject  and  a  specialized  domain.  

Neeley, K. A. (2015, June), Communication as Both the Ultimate Interdisciplinary Subject and a Field of Specialization Encompassing More Than Technical Writing: Communication Instruction Across Divisions Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23704

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