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Integrated Teaching Of Experimental And Communication Skills To Undergraduate Aerospace Engineering Students

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.260.1 - 1.260.12

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Paper Authors

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Ian A. Waitz

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Edward C. Barrett

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

Session 2302

Integrated Teaching of Experimental and Communication Skills to Undergraduate Aerospace Engineering Students

Ian A. Waitz, Edward C. Barrett Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139

1. INTRODUCTION The ability to communicate clearly and precisely is integral to the ability to think critically and cre- atively. Because of the interdependence of clear thought and clear expression, there are significant benefits associated with integrating the teaching of communications and other professional skills with advanced, small- group laboratory research. This paper describes the coupling of an undergraduate Experimental Projects Lab with a Communications Practicum. The two subjects are taught jointly by faculty members from the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department and the MIT Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. The pairing of the experimental projects course and the practicum provides an environment for teaching communications skills in which the students are interested in the subject matter and motivated to learn. In addition, a variety of modern information technologies are applied to augment the effectiveness of the practicum. Several pedagogi- cal themes are interwoven into the two courses including hands-on learning, cooperative education, writing-to- learn, and mentoring. The courses jointly serve to educate students in a variety of aspects of professional engineering practice including solving open-ended problems, integration of disciplinary coursework, project development and planning, oral and written communication, peer review, and teamwork.

The Experimental Projects Lab is similar to an undergraduate thesis in scope. Each team of two stu- dents chooses an original research project and is guided by a faculty advisor over the span of two semesters. The students participate in all aspects of experimental research including project definition, proposing, design of the experiment, construction of apparatus, completion of the experiment, and analysis and reporting of results. The Communications Practicum provides focused instruction in both written and oral communication skills. The practicum syllabus is closely coupled to the projects lab. Strong motivation for the students to learn com- munications skills is provided since only a small fraction of the grade in the projects lab is determined by the faculty advisors who work with each student team. The majority of the grade is awarded by the course staff whose main insight into the research project is through a variety of written and oral assignments. Practicum instruction is conducted in a specially designed electronic seminar room which allows online drafting, annota- tion, and peer review of documents, as well as video-taping and peer review of oral presentations, prior to their being presented for credit in the experimental projects course.

This paper describes the unique features of this approach to undergraduate engineering education, and represents a progress report following a three-year experimental implementation of the new course model. The Experimental Projects Lab and the Communications Practicum are described in more detail in Sections 2 and 3, respectively. The objectives of the two courses, overviews of the course formats, and examples of course materials are included. In Section 4 the modern information technologies which are used in the practicum are reviewed. An assessment of the effectiveness of the practicum based on student course evaluation responses is presented in Section 5. Section 6 contains a summary and conclusions. \. ..2 r,,, @~j 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ‘..+,yyy,:

Waitz, I. A., & Barrett, E. C. (1996, June), Integrated Teaching Of Experimental And Communication Skills To Undergraduate Aerospace Engineering Students Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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