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Investigating the Relationship Between Self-efficacy and Perceived Importance of Communication Skills Among Engineering Students

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Relationships Between Skills and Knowledge Domains

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Zhen Zhao Arizona State University

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Zhen Zhao is a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University in the Fulton Schools of Engineering Polytechnic School. He earned a B.S. in Computer Science and an M.S. in Software Engineering, both from Xi'an Jiaotong University in China. He also received an M.S.E in Industrial Engineering from Arizona State University. Zhen's research interests include engineering student mentor-ship ability development, engineering research center education and diversity impact evaluation, engineering student adaptability development, and engineering graduate student attrition. Combining the strength of mathematical modeling and statistics, 5+ years experience in collegiate teaching, Zhen is passionate and dedicated to preparing future engineering workforce.

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Samantha Ruth Brunhaver Arizona State University

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Samantha Brunhaver is an Assistant Professor of Engineering in the Fulton Schools of Engineering Polytechnic School. Dr. Brunhaver recently joined Arizona State after completing her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She also has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University. Dr. Brunhaver's research examines the career decision-making and professional identity formation of engineering students, alumni, and practicing engineers. She also conducts studies of new engineering pedagogy that help to improve student engagement and understanding.

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Studies of engineering graduates demonstrate that the ability to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills required to succeed in professional engineering practice. For the past several decades, engineering educators and researchers have continuously put effort into developing innovative curriculum and pedagogy to improve the communication skills of engineering students, in past motivated by ABET accreditation standards, and yet, the results have been all positive. Recent literature shows that engineering students still, on average, have low-self-efficacy in their communication skills and assign low ratings to communication skills when asked to predict its importance to their future career. While these two measures appear to track together, there remain questions about whether engineering students’ self-efficacy in their communication skills actually contributes to their perceived importance of these skills and vice versa.

Designed based on the Expectancy-Value Theory of Achievement Motivation framework, the current study aims to address this research gap by investigating the relationship between engineering students’ communication skills self-efficacy and their perceived importance of communication skills to working in an engineering career. The authors first developed an instrument to measure these two constructs, defining communications ills to be comprised of three distinct components: verbal communication skills, written communication skills, and visual communication skills. An initial instrument of 21 items was composed and subject to review for evidence of face validity with seven undergraduate engineering students, and content validity with three faculty members with expertise spanning engineering education and technical communication. The revised 15-item instrument was then administered to undergraduate engineering students at a large, southwestern university to collect evidence of construct validity and internal consistency reliability. Finally, the authors conducted a partial correlation analysis to explore the bidirectional effects between communication skills self-efficacy and perceived importance of communication skills controlling for demographic factors.

A total of 108 valid survey responses were collected. The correlation analysis results revealed a statistically significant correlation between engineering students’ communication skills self-efficacy and their perceived importance of such skills to working in an engineering career. This significant correlation relationship suggests that on one side, engineering students may assign greater value to communication skills in professional engineering work when they are more confident in their ability to perform these skills; on the other side, engineering students may not put effort to develop their communication skills when they do not feel the importance of having such skills to the success of their professional career. Recommendations for how communication skills should be taught in undergraduate engineering programs based on these results will be discussed in the full paper. Complete details for the exploratory factor and partial correlation analysis conducted will be presented as well.

Zhao, Z., & Brunhaver, S. R. (2020, June), Investigating the Relationship Between Self-efficacy and Perceived Importance of Communication Skills Among Engineering Students Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34881

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