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Communication Literacy For 21st Century Engineering Education

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.278.1 - 6.278.8

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Steven Levitt

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

Session 2793

Communication Literacy for 21st Century Engineering Education Steven R. Levitt University of Texas at San Antonio


This paper presents several key issues that are contained in a communication curriculum designed to address critical issues facing engineers, and expand traditional material typically used for engineering education. Specifically, I will overview the complexities of the manager- engineer relationship, then discuss visual and statistical thinking as it relates to display of evidence for decision making. To illustrate the critical nature of these and other key communication skills, several case-studies are presented where engineers’ failure to communicate effectively resulted in significant negative consequences: most notably the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The full curriculum also covers basics of oral and written communication, language use, listening, and interviewing. It is supported by reading materials that contain the charts and other visuals described below, and by a web site: where full details contained in the curriculum can be found and used. This curriculum has been successfully implemented in an Introduction to Engineering course taught via distance learning.

I. Introduction

The importance of communication skills for practicing engineers is widely recognized, yet not fully addressed in the typical engineering curriculum. Communication can be an engineer’s strongest ally or his/her worst enemy. The safe return of the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft marked both engineering and communication success. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger was the price of failure. As I will further illustrate shortly, failures to communicate effectively can lead to disastrous consequences.

The Engineering Criteria 2000 promulgated by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) offers an opportunity for innovative undergraduate learning. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology's ABET Engineering Criteria 2000 program outcomes and assessment states that "Engineering programs must demonstrate that their graduates have: a) an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering; b) an ability to design and conduct experiments as well as to analyze and interpret data; c) an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs; d) an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams; e) an ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems; f) an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility; g) an ability to communicate effectively;

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Levitt, S. (2001, June), Communication Literacy For 21st Century Engineering Education Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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