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Hands-on Development of Communication Skills Within an Undergraduate Construction Materials Laboratory

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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

Materials Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.832.1 - 26.832.14



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Paper Authors


Isaac L. Howard P.E. Mississippi State University Orcid 16x16

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Isaac L. Howard is the Materials and Construction Industries Endowed Chair within the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Mississippi State University. He is a member of the Bagley College of Engineering’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers and obtained bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in Civil Engineering from Arkansas State University, West Virginia University, and the University of Arkansas, respectively.

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Braden T. Smith Mississippi State University

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Braden T. Smith obtained a bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from Louisiana Tech University. He is currently a graduate student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Mississippi State University who is concurrently enrolled in the masters and doctoral degree programs and recieved the 2015 Construction Materials Research Center Teaching Assistant Award.

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Hands on Development of Communication Skills Within an Undergraduate Construction Materials LaboratoryAbstractTechnical communication (oral and written) is a formidable, yet rewarding, challenge withinundergraduate engineering programs. Effective writing and presentation skills are valuable forany profession. Effective communication skills, however, don’t just happen, especially for someengineering students as a strong preference to developing analytical and problem solving skillsisn’t uncommon. It can be difficult to develop communication skills that are likely to affectstudent’s careers during a time where they often do not hold them in high regard.The materials area within the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at a southeasternUS university repeatedly experiences the situation described in the aforementioned paragraph. Itis much easier to motivate many students to, for example, calculate volumetric properties neededto design an asphalt concrete mixture than it is to get them to write a report regarding the samemixture and concepts. When assignments contain words such as calculate, design, or drawstudents tend to have approving body language while the assignment is being handed out.Replace one of those words with format, write, or present, and body language often changes toindifference, concern, or overall lack of interest/approval.Laboratories are an opportunity to interface what are often less desirable activities (e.g. writingand presenting) with physical experiments and calculations. This paper’s primary objective is topresent results of a construction materials laboratory that has recently incorporated panelevaluations to expose students to presenting and emphasize competition. This laboratory is arequired part of an ABET undergraduate engineering curriculum and has involved writing forseveral years.The panels require a small group of students (e.g. four) to present results of an assigned topicfrom laboratory experiments (e.g. a concrete mix design) to a relatively small group of panelmembers. The first two iterations of the panel concept have differed in terms of specificparameters, but the key component has remained that student groups present their work for a fewminutes to a panel who ranks them relative to other groups. The grade assigned is partially afunction of a group’s performance relative to other groups.A key instructional component of the panels has been encouraging work that is of high enoughquality to desire showing it to others as opposed to feeling obligated to show it to others. Also,requiring small groups of students to present to a panel encourages them to be more hands onduring experiments, and helps facilitate active learning (in particular leading up to and during thepanels). This paper presents survey results from students in the laboratory, current and formerteaching assistants, and panel evaluators. Student evaluation data from this laboratory, thedepartment, college, and university is also incorporated (including taxonomies) as appropriate.Findings from two years of data where the panels have been incorporated indicate the concept ispromising, but also indicate there is additional room for enhancement.

Howard, I. L., & Smith, B. T. (2015, June), Hands-on Development of Communication Skills Within an Undergraduate Construction Materials Laboratory Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24169

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