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Focus on Social Learning in a First-year Technical Writing Class: A Canadian Case Study

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication Across the Divisions III: Writing as Social–Technical Integration

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Computing & Information Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.787.1 - 26.787.10



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Paper Authors


Tatiana Teslenko University of British Columbia, Vancouver

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Prof. Tatiana Teslenko (Kandydat of Philological Sciences, 1989, PhD, 2000) lives in Vancouver, Canada. She is Professor of Teaching at the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science, the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include transformative learning pedagogy, engineering communication, education for sustainable development, and community service learning. Her recent publications include articles and books in the field of genre studies and a textbook for engineering students -- Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre (Hampton, 2002), Feminist Utopian Novels of the 70s (Routledge, 2003), Fundamental Competencies for Engineers (Oxford University Press, 2006). She teaches technical communication for engineering students and has designed and launched several programs for international students (such as ASSIST UBC and the Graduate Teaching Assistants training program). She was the founder and inaugural Director of the Faculty’s Centre for Professional Skills Development.

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Focus on Social Learning in a First-Year Technical Writing Class: a Canadian Case-StudyAbstract: Incorporation of writing assignments into the first-year curriculum is a keyopportunity for engineering educators. The topics of sustainable consumption and design,environmental issues and global engineering were introduced into a first-year engineeringcommunication course in the Faculty of Applied Science at the University of British Columbia,Vancouver. This successful initiative was further expanded to include writing reflection papers,proposals and research reports on community service learning and sustainable engineeringprojects in developing countries.Purpose: This paper presents a pedagogical approach that strives to combine the use of writingassignments and the focus on social learning. Learning objectives include increasing students’awareness of sustainability and providing them with the opportunity to comment on sustainableengineering design. The paper shows how students explore human and social dimensions ofsustainability and obtain problem-solving experience by considering the perspectives of multiplestakeholders in their reflection papers, proposals and reports.Design/methodology/ approach: An original interdisciplinary approach is employed, with afocus on promoting education for sustainability and global citizenship. The multi-dimensionalmethodology involves action research based on data drawn from observation, surveys,interviews, and discourse analysis of students’ assignments.Findings: Learning to engage in a meaningful dialogue on sustainability and global citizenshiphas a positive impact on students’ creativity and their understanding of their future professionalidentity. Students move from community service projects to the exploration of globalimplications of engineering work.Originality/value: The concept is based on the original idea to use a first-year writing coursefor integrating technical communication with fundamental competencies for engineers. In thisway students learn to value sustainability at the very beginning of their university studies. Newcase studies that are set out in the global context have been developed for the course.Keywords: Writing, Reflection, Professional Identity, Education for sustainable development,Engineering, Communication, Global citizenship, Community service learningSelected References:Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) (2009), “Criteria for accreditingengineering programs. Effective for evaluations during the 2010-2011 accreditation cycle”,ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission, available at (accessed 12November 2011).Allen, D., Allenby, B., Bridges, M., Crittenden, J., Davidson, C., Hendrickson, C., Matthews, S.,Murphy, C., and Pijawka, D. (2008), Benchmarking sustainable engineering education: Finalreport. EPA Grant X3-83235101-0.American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE) (2009), Environmental engineeringbody of Knowledge. AAEE, Annapolis, MD, available at: Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) (2008), Civil engineering body of knowledge forthe 21stcentury: Preparing the civil engineer for the future, 2nd Ed., ASCE. Reston, VA.Barry, B., Brophy, S., Oakes, W., Banks, M., and Sharvelle, S. (2008), “Developing professional competencies through challenge to project experiences”, International Journal of Engineering Education, 24 (6), pp. 1148-62.Bielefeldt, A.R. (2011), “Incorporating a sustainability module into first-year courses for civil and environmental engineering students”, Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice. ASCE. April 2011, pp. 78-85.Birch, J., Jaramillo P., Wosczyna-Birch K., Adrezin R., and Richards, B. (2009), “Integrating professional skills in the 21st century engineering and technical curriculum”, IMECE 2008: Engineering Education and Professional Development, Vol. 9, pp. 293-98.Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) (2010), Accreditation criteria and procedures report, available at:, M. (2010), “Assessing technical communication within engineering contexts”, IEEETransactions on Professional Communication 53 (1), pp. 33-45.Downey, G., Lucena, J., Moskal, B., Bigley, T., Lehr, J., and Nichols-Belo, A. (2006), “The globally competent engineer: working effectively with people who define problems differently”, Journal of Engineering Education, pp.107-22, available at http://www.ewb-, A.B., Cramond P.J., Nesbit S.E., C.S. Paterson, and Teslenko, T. (2006), Fundamental Competencies for Engineers, Oxford University Press, Don Mills, ON.Engineering at UBC (2011), available at:, R.M. (2008), “A whole new mind for a flat world”, in MacLennan, J. (Ed.), Readings for Technical Communication, Oxford University Press, Don Mills, ON, pp.11-14.Harlap, Y. (Ed). (2008), Road to Global Citizenship: An Educator’s Toolbook, University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver, BC.Kemppainen, A.J., N. L. Veurink and G. L. Hein. (2007), “Sustainability in a common first yearengineering program”, paper presented at the 37th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers of EducationConference, session S2J, 10-13 October, Milwaukee, WI.Labun, C. (2007), Teaching engineering communication to first year engineering students, available at:, J. (2008), “Why communication matters”, in MacLennan, J. (Ed.), Readings for Technical Communication, Oxford University Press, Don Mills, ON, pp. 4-10.Mihelcic, J., and Trotz, M. (2010), “Sustainability and the environmental engineer: Implicationsfor education, research and practice”, Environmental Engineer: Applied Research and Practice,the Magazine of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, Vol. 10, Winter 2010,pp.27-34.Reave, L. (2004), “Technical communication instruction in engineering schools: A survey oftop-ranked U.S. and Canadian programs”, Journal of Business and Technical Communication,Vol. 18, pp. 452-90.Shulman, L.J., M. Besterfield-Sacre, and J. McGourty. (2005), “The ABET “professional skills” – Can they be taught? Can they be assessed?” Journal of Engineering Education, pp. 41-55.Thomas, I. (2009), “Critical thinking, transformative learning, sustainable education, andproblem-based learning in universities”, Journal of Transformative Education, July 2009, 7, pp.245-64.World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), Our Common Future, BruntlandReport. New York: Oxford University Press.

Teslenko, T. (2015, June), Focus on Social Learning in a First-year Technical Writing Class: A Canadian Case Study Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24124

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