June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
June 19, 2019
Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering
The ability to effectively communicate in writing is an essential ability (or “program outcome”) for many Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) undergraduate degree programs. Yet, faculty members in these same programs often identify this outcome as one of the most difficult in which to improve the level of achievement among students. While many examples of programs that have improved their students’ writing exist, in other programs, efforts to teach students to “write like an engineer (mathematician, or scientist)” seemingly go nowhere, or even backwards, as student cohorts demonstrate the same difficulties year-after-year when assessed in the area of academic written communication skills. Work to date by the authors has shed some light on two potential significant contributors to this phenomenon. The first of these is that academic STEM writing is produced in a “written dialect” that is not found elsewhere in the English language. Furthermore, the authors have found that the “STEM dialect” is not a homogenous whole, but is rather a collection of sub-dialects, with significant variation between disciplines. As an example, the use of first-person pronouns varies widely among disciplines, with its use approaching 100% in some science journals, but only reaching 50% or less in some engineering journals. The second of these is access to helpful guides for faculty to teach rhetorical features of effective academic STEM writing is very limited. The chief contributor to this is that academic STEM writing (academic journals) is overwhelmingly written for an audience with extensive post-graduate preparation. As a result, well-intentioned students combing the journal shelves for timely, yet digestible, examples of STEM writing are not guaranteed success in finding appropriate models through which to develop required competencies. Without meaningful examples of how to write, the students default to a writing style acquired in a non-STEM course, or even in high school. To help address the first of these two problems, the authors propose a twelve-dimension “common language” that assesses written works on the basis of audience, purpose, thesis, voice, tone, stance, organization, development, style, diction, editing, and conventions. Examples of academic STEM writing from a selection of disciplines will be assessed using this twelve-point lexicon to identify similarities and differences between the various discipline-specific dialects. After the results of this assessment are catalogued, and to address the second of the two problems, a guide will be presented to capture at least some of the key aspects of each disciplinary dialect to better guide students when teaching academic STEM writing. The authors propose the beginning of a series of guides which could be used as a teaching aid for undergraduate STEM students. Expanding the common language assessment and library to include a variety of STEM genres outside of the academia (industry reports, government reports, design proposals, etc.) is proposed as an extension.
Clippinger, D., & Jernquist, K., & Nozaki, S., & Nitterright, F. A. (2019, June), Improving Undergraduate STEM Writing through Common Language as a Tool to Teach Engineering “Dialects” Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. https://peer.asee.org/32952
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