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International Engineering Student Motivation to Develop Communication Skills: a Case for an Integrated Training Approach

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Investigating Instructional Strategies

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Paper Authors


John Pringle Vantage College, University of British Columbia

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John Pringle M.Ed. (Applied Linguistics) has been teaching academic and professional writing for 15 years. He has previously researched the value of Systemic Functional Linguistics as pedagogical tool to teach report writing, and the benefits of collaborative writing on second-language acquisition.

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Gabriel Potvin University of British Columbia, Vancouver

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Dr. Gabriel Potvin is a faculty member in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the UBC. He is involved in the development of first-year programs in engineering, problem-based learning initiatives, science and engineering outreach, and teaching training for engineering graduate students.

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Fueled by the rapid economic and social development of important international markets, the demand for North-American post-secondary education in engineering is steadily increasing. Language barriers, however, can often interfere with the full integration of international students in western academic environments and thus hinder their success. To further compound the problem, despite good communication skills being crucial to the engineering profession and that the lack of these skills is identified by employers as one of the principal lacuna of engineering graduates, it is well documented that many students, both international and domestic, attach little importance to their development, and adopt a mentality that language is for arts students, and thus irrelevant to them. Since technical communication training is most often offered in a few dedicated courses or modules that are independent of the core engineering curriculum, there is often very little tangible incentive for students to develop and sustain these skills throughout their studies. ______ College at the University of ________ (_____) was established to offer innovative and specialized first-year programs that fully integrate core technical content and discipline-specific English language training to international students that don’t quite meet the language qualifications for direct entry into _____ programs. The language training, which is based on the Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) framework, is fully integrated with first-year engineering courses in the Applied Science stream of the program. This integrated approach has the benefits of enabling students to quickly develop useful technical communication skills, improves their understanding of the technical material, facilitates the transition of international students to their academic community, and increases the relevance of language training and reinforces its importance for engineering students. In previous work, the logistics of this approach were described and its effectiveness in the case of two first-year physical chemistry engineering courses and their adjunct language course at _____, based on student feedback and the assessment of lab report-based writing tasks, was assessed. This paper further builds on this work and examines the motivation of international engineering students in these courses to develop technical communication skills, and their perception of the importance of communication skills for both their engineering studies and subsequent career, primarily through survey responses based on a task value theoretical framework. Based on the responses collected, the language interventions that were deemed most useful and valuable by students are identified, and their tangible benefits in terms of student performance are discussed. Recommendations as how this type of intervention could be implemented in other engineering courses, including those attended by domestic students, are also presented.

Pringle, J., & Potvin, G. (2018, June), International Engineering Student Motivation to Develop Communication Skills: a Case for an Integrated Training Approach Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30704

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