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Engineering Communication Across the Disciplines: Using Online Video Modules to Standardize Instruction and Expectations

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Rethinking PowerPoint and Other Acts of Communication

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.579.1 - 22.579.19



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Paper Authors


Laura R. Grossenbacher University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Laura Grossenbacher is Director of the Technical Communication Program in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas at Austin, and has been teaching courses in engineering communication for fifteen years. She has done consulting work in professional engineering writing for private firms (such as HNTB, Inc. and Affiliated Engineers, Inc.) and has taught technical communication as part of the UW, Madison College of Engineering study abroad program in both Toulouse, France, and Hangzhou, China. For the past several years her program has been collaborating with colleagues throughout the College of Engineering to design online modules to improve engineering writing across the curriculum.

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Christina Matta University of Wisconsin, Madison, Technical Communication Program

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Dr. Christina Matta teaches in the Technical Communication Program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she teaches introductory and upper-level technical writing classes along with courses in technical presentations and preparing grant proposals. She holds a Ph.D. in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and worked with the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching for six years before joining the Technical Communication Program.

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Engineering Communication Across the Disciplines: Using Online Video Modules to Standardize Instruction and ExpectationsThis paper will explore the challenges of identifying faculty expectations for engineeringcommunication skills, reinforcing those skills consistently across the curriculum, and assessinglearning outcomes in undergraduate engineering students. Our engineering communicationprogram, which is housed within a multidisciplinary college of engineering, is currentlyaddressing these challenges through a series of online communication modules designed for mid-and upper-level engineering courses.Through recent surveys and faculty focus groups, our program has identified significant gapsbetween faculty expectations and student performance. We recognize that faculty are not alwayscomfortable addressing communication skills in their engineering courses and often choose tofocus instead on technical accuracy. The result, unfortunately, is a compartmentalization ofcommunication within the engineering curriculum.To address this skills gap, our program has created a series of online communication modulesthat can be used in engineering courses to provide the instruction that faculty are unable toinclude in their class meetings. These modules include learning objectives, instructional videos,interactive quizzes with feedback, slides used in the video, and sample grading rubrics thatfaculty can use or modify. These materials, whether used in part or collectively, can assistfaculty in clarifying their expectations and, in turn, emphasize to students the importance ofskills transfer between communication and engineering content courses by providing a consistentmessage across the curriculum.The first phase of our modules project was launched for selected classes in Fall 2009 andtargeted four areas of communication proficiency: macro-organizing technical documents,micro-organizing paragraphs, integrating graphics into documents, and designing slides fortechnical presentations. We assessed the modules using three sources: quiz scores, anecdotalevidence from faculty, and confidence surveys. Our preliminary assessment data show that themodules help students identify areas in which they are overconfident in their skills and needfocused instruction and feedback. In 2010-2011, we are continuing to assess these modules,revise them, and develop new modules in response to faculty feedback.While online modules can never replace traditional methods of teaching communication skills,they can contribute to a larger program of enhancing and assessing communication across theengineering curriculum. Our paper, therefore, will demonstrate our modules and shareassessment strategies with a broader audience of engineering faculty who may face similarchallenges, both with integrating communication skills into engineering courses and then withdeveloping consistent expectations for student work. We believe our online modules offerteaching materials and direct assessment tools for communication skills that others may findvaluable, especially for schools preparing for ABET review. (We are submitting this abstract tothe Liberal Education Division, but believe that our approach may also be of interest to theMultidisciplinary Engineering Division.)

Grossenbacher, L. R., & Matta, C. (2011, June), Engineering Communication Across the Disciplines: Using Online Video Modules to Standardize Instruction and Expectations Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17860

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