June 22, 2013
June 22, 2013
June 22, 2013
Invited - Student Development
21.46.1 - 21.46.11
Paper ID #8368Invited Paper - Preparing the Global Engineer: How learning to teach in aService-Learning Project Develops Effective Communication Skills in Engi-neering StudentsMrs. Robyne Bowering, Monash University Robyne Bowering began lecturing in science teacher education at Monash University in 1991. In 2006 she became the Schools’ Technology Project Coordinator. The Project operates as a partnership between the Faculties of Engineering and Education and has been speciﬁcally developed to enhance the profes- sional skill competencies of ﬁnal year engineering students through their placement in schools, where they design and teach a STEM-based unit of work. Robyne’s pedagogical focus is on providing the best learn- ing environment for individual student growth and her current research interest is how learning to teach provides engineering students with the cognitive, conative and metacognitive skills needed for effective problem-solving in the engineering workplace. c American Society for Engineering Education, 2013 Preparing the Global Engineer: How learning to teach in a Service-LearningProject Develops Effective Oral Communication Skills in Engineering Students.AbstractGlobalisation, mass migration, the digital revolution and a growing need for environmentalstewardship are changing the way goods and services are designed, produced, distributed,consumed and disposed of. To be able to work successfully, both domestically and globally,engineers need the capacity to understand changing contexts, constraints and cultures andhave the capability and drive to work with people who define and solve problems differently.As the engineering workplace evolves, there are increasing demands from industry forengineering faculties to produce student graduates who are technically able and possessproficient professional skills. Monash University’s Schools’ Technology Project has beenspecifically designed to develop a range of professional skills in their final-year engineeringstudents. The project is a service-learning program placing students into schools to designand teach STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) units of work.This paper is a phenomenological description of how the experiential learning opportunitiesprovided during the project enhance one aspect of student professional skill development:effective oral communication.Introduction‘Engineers are hired, retained and rewarded for solving problems’. Globalization, massmigration, the digital revolution and a growing need for environmental stewardship arecreating new contexts and new types of problems for engineers to solve. To be successful inthe rapidly changing world, engineers need to be globally competent and locally relevant.Downey et al. define global competent engineers as those who possess ‘the knowledge,ability, and predisposition to work effectively with people who define problems differentlythan they do.’ Engineering has become a discipline where the social and technical havebecome inextricably intertwined. Engineers need to be technically able and proficient atmanaging relationships and building networks. They need strong social skills (a sub set ofprofessional skills/soft skills/generic skills/transferable skills) in particular: effective oral communication skills - able to differentiate and cater to different audiences.[2, 5] They need to be able to communicate efficiently in English, the official international language of business and the sciences. They need to be purposeful when delivering information and instructions, and competent at interpreting information – verbal, non-verbal, written, visual and electronic; cogent interpersonal skills – enthusiastic, collaborative workers who are open-minded and aware of their own perspectives and assumptions, and those of others. They need to have cultural awareness, not just in terms of different ethnicities, but also the culture of organisations.Earl Dowell, Dean of Engineering at Duke University stated “…engineers who are adept atcommunications have a considerable advantage over those who are not...” Effectivetechnical and non-technical communication, as a two-way process, is paramount to anengineer’s success. Yet the emphasis on developing communication skills in manyengineering courses is limited to the one-way delivery of discipline-specific informationthrough technical writing and the occasional oral presentation, supported by text and imageson a screen. Oral communication in the broadest context is a learnable skill. Despite this,studies from around the world reveal that it is the competency most frequently reported asbeing deficient in the engineering workplace. [6-8, 10]Oral communication, like many skills identified by employers as insufficiently developed ingraduates, can be enhanced through improved faculty teaching and learning methods. Thenew curricula should encourage deeper learning and understanding of context. They shouldcontain among other things: integrated experiential activities, interdisciplinary perspectives,addressing different learning styles and helping students to develop life-long learning skillsby assisting them to understand how they learn and provide a connectedness to the needs andissues of the broader community.[11-13]Service-learning is a pedagogical practice that deliberately integrates community serviceactivities with educational objectives. Students engage in meaningful learning throughapplied, active, project-based learning, drawing on multiple knowledge sources (academicand community knowledge, student knowledge and experience,). They use what they learnin the classroom to solve real-life problems. They not only learn the practical applications oftheir studies, they become actively contributing citizens and community members through theservice they perform.Trevelyan advocates that ‘… many aspects of engineering practice are closely related toteaching, particularly technical coordination and training. This creates an interestingopportunity to improve engineering education. If students learn effective teaching skills, firstthey will acquire social skills that will enable them to be more effective engineers, secondthey will learn the ‘real technical stuff’ better ...’This paper provides a brief overview of oral communication practice in the engineeringworkplace. It looks at the awareness that final-year engineering students have of the valuethat employers place on effective oral communication skills and then demonstrates how theSchools’ Technology Project provides opportunities for engineering students to practise andrefine their oral communication skills in a range of contexts with different audiences.The role of oral communication in engineering practiceStudies suggest that engineers spend around 60% of their working day interacting withpeople. The majority of this interaction is orally based communication: informal face to face,on site, in meetings, in training sessions, over the phone, etc. Darling and Dannels’ ‘Reporton the Role of Oral Communication in the Workplace’ indicated that practising engineersdeemed message construction (being concise, clear and logical) to be the most important oralcommunication skill to have in the workplace. Interaction with others was a close second(interpersonal skills, teamwork, negotiation, asking and answering questions), followed bypublic speaking skills and delivery (confidence, preparation, etc.).Trevelyan reports that young engineers spend more time listening than talking duringconversations, while Lee suggests that the work performance of novice engineers can oftenbe predicted by the quality of the social relationships they form with ‘expert’ engineers, andtheir willingness to ask for and accept guidance.What is the Schools’ Technology Project?The Schools’ Technology Project (STP) is a semester-long, service-learning elective, open tofourth Year students from all engineering disciplines at Monash University’s ClaytonCampus. The Project operates as a partnership between the Faculties of Engineering andEducation and local elementary and high schools. It is one of two engineering unitsrecognised in the Monash Passport: Act Program, a University-wide framework, ‘providingstudents with the opportunity to develop a range of skills and abilities, through communityengagement, work-integrated learning activities and peer-to-peer learning, that not only serveas a foundation for career development, but can also be applied to transform local andinternational communities’.At the start of the semester, the STP students participate in a series of workshops on:understanding how we construct and retain knowledge, different learning styles, effectivecommunication and presentation skills, motivation, goal setting, lesson planning, leadershipand reflection. They are then placed into a suitably matched school to plan, organise andteach a STEM-based unit of work. The STP students specifically design their unit of work(project) around the brief given to them by their supervising teacher and the interests andcapabilities of the children that they work with. The projects are typically 12+ hours long andare delivered over six weeks. Two or more STP students, preferably from differentengineering disciplines, are placed at the same school; they work with the same grade level ofstudents, on the same topic but with different classes. This enables the students to plan theirclasses and reflect on their learning with a colleague.For the schools involved in the Project, the engineering students bring to the classroom novel,authentic learning experiences and an understanding of the work of engineers. Peter Hall,Victorian Minister for the Teaching Profession, described the project as ‘…not only brilliantbecause of the unique learning experience it creates for students, but it doubles as hands-onprofessional development for teachers. The Schools’ Technology Project inspires not only thestudents, but the teachers themselves. They see how hands-on, inquiry-based learningactivities can energise theoretical concepts and in turn motivate and excite students’.The school placement provides the STP students with a supportive, professional workplace,where they are encouraged to step outside their comfort zone, in order to develop a widerange of professional skills.“The STP has been one of the most rewarding units I have taken during my time at University. The variousteaching sessions have put me into situations where I can learn and improve on my soft skills in real-lifesituations, which is much better than learning purely based on theory. It also allowed me freedom to fail, learnfrom my mistakes and practise what I have learnt effectively.” (Andrew)Since its inception in 1991, nearly 1300 engineering students and over 30000 elementary andhigh school students (and their teachers) have benefitted from their involvement in theProject.Setting the context for the need to develop effective oral communication skillsIn the first week of the elective the students complete an assessment task requiring them to: 1. Look at the student competency outcomes outlined by the following engineering program accrediting agencies: Engineers’ Australia, ABET, Inc. and EUR-ACE®, and at the CDIO Syllabus to get a feel for the engineering competencies that are considered to be important around the world. 2. Conduct an informal audit of their personal professional skills. 3. Analyse and respond to Nair et al.’s ‘Re-engineering graduate skills - a case study’. A study of the 2007 Monash University survey of employers’ satisfaction levels of their Engineering graduates. The students are reassured that the findings are typical for similar surveys conducted throughout the world, and certainly not unique to Monash or Engineering. In their response, the students need to state whether they agree or disagree or are surprised with the survey findings and back up their statements with relevant examples from their studies or work experience. 4. Identify three professional skills that they will specifically work on developing during the semester and the measures they propose using to evaluate how successful they are in meeting their goals.Analysis of the student responses from 2010 to 2012 (322 students) indicated that nearly half(48%) of the students were unaware of the value that employers placed on professionalskills. Most assumed that their technical skills, based on their subject selections and results atUniversity, would be more than adequate for them to secure and thrive in their firstengineering job.“I was under the impression that the best person for the job was always the person who was the mosttechnically able, this article has broadened my understanding of the credentials that are required byemployers.” (David)Eleven per cent of the students were indignant at the findings, convinced that they possessedmore than adequate professional skill levels. Unfortunately, these students tended to have alimited understanding of the range and context in which many of the skills are used theworkplace. For example, two students attached a copy of a mark sheet their group hadreceived for an oral presentation in another subject, whose opening comment was ‘Yourpresentation was better than 99% of the presentations I see at conferences’. From myexperience, this is not necessarily the highest bench-mark to assess effective presentationstandards by and this one comment led the students to believe that they had outstanding oralcommunication skills.A total of 4% of students were complacent about the findings.“Engineers around the world are hired for their technical skills and problem-solving abilities.They are not known for their communication skills and people skills.” (William)The remaining 37% of students were not surprised by the important role that proficientprofessional skills play in the workplace; interestingly, most of these students were alreadyworking part-time in industry.Two thirds (68%) of the students believed that Universities need to be more proactive inaddressing industry concerns, or at least alerting their students to the concerns.“The issue is best addressed with a complete restructure of HOW subjects are taught and assessed, rather thanWHAT is taught...apart from group projects, the engineering course is primarily just counter-productive solowork and self-reliant study.” (Peter)A number of students lamented that a lack of lecturers with competent social skills wasprobably a contributing factor to them not placing much value on developing their ownskills.“Most lecturers are dry, have terrible communication skills, and form no personal one-on-one relationshipswith students. There is never any attempt to make learning interesting, relevant or fun.” (James)The two most frequently selected professional skill goals set by students enrolled in the STPover the past 3 years have been improving oral communication (66% of students) anddeveloping interpersonal skills with colleagues and clients (28%). This formative assessmenttask explicitly informs the students that developing their professional skills is an integral partof their engineering education. Allowing the students to identify and choose the professionalskills they most need to work on gives them ownership and responsibility and is a powerfulmotivating tool.How the placement provides authentic contexts for oral communication developmentUnderstanding the client’s problem and perspectives to define the project: The abilityto accurately deconstruct ill-defined problems and interpret the client’s desired explicit andimplicit project outcomes is vital to the overall success of a project. The client’s wholeproject experience impacts on the professional reputation of those directly involved in thenegotiation process and their employer.The week before the STP teaching placements begin, a briefing meeting is held between theSTP students working at the same school and their supervising teachers (the client). The STPcoordinator attends each meeting as facilitator and mentor. The main purpose of the meetingis to negotiate the commitments (days/times when the STP students will teach, teacherexpectations, e.g. lesson plans will be emailed through two days before each session; andMonash and student expectations, e.g. the type of feedback required) and to establish thebroader aims and learning objectives of the project (e.g. hands-on, problem-based learning,with an emphasis on fair testing and team-work). The meeting also provides an opportunityfor the STP students to begin building a rapport and trust with their client.The teachers come to the meeting knowing the big-picture learning outcomes they want fortheir students, but don’t know how to achieve them authentically using engineeringknowledge and skills (Engineering as a subject, is not officially included the AustralianSchool Curriculum). To ensure that their first meeting with the client is productive, the STPstudents need to have conducted some preliminary research and bring relevant suggestionsand ideas to the discussion table. The STP students learn that the effort they put intopreparing for the meeting not only provides them with the confidence to ‘sell’ their ideas, butalso provides a tangible structure for the discussion and a guide to the types of questions theyneed to ask their client e.g. can we conduct parts of our lessons outside? Do any studentshave special needs that we should accommodate in our planning?“We knew that our teachers were keen for the Grade 5 classes to work in small teams on a design/constructionproject. We were keen to work on a project that we thought the children would find exciting and would useinformation from both of our backgrounds - civil and materials engineering. Designing and building trebuchetsthat could launch a tennis ball across the school oval, sounded like a great idea. Dave and I took the liberty ofattending our first meeting with a draft of our proposed lessons, a prototype of a simple trebuchet that could bebuilt by the students and a You-tube clip, showing trebuchets in action. The teachers loved the idea and wereimpressed with our initiative.” (Simon)At the conclusion of the briefing meeting, the STP students spend at least one hour observingtheir client teaching the children that they will work with. They are provided with a list ofteacher and student behaviours to pay attention to. For example: how did the teacher give outinstructions; were they written, verbal, demonstrated or a combination? Were they repeatedmore than once? Were they ‘chunked’ into bundles? What non-verbal communicationoccurred? How did the children respond? Guided observation plays an important role inthe STP students seeing that effective communication is often more about how a message isdelivered rather than what the message is. The observation session provides the studentswith the opportunity to see how their learning from the STP workshops translates into theclassroom. The modelling of effective communication and interpersonal skills by the teacherprovides the STP students with a concrete experience to reflect on and consider using whenthey start teaching.At the conclusion of the observation session, the engineering students spend 10-15 minutesintroducing themselves to the children, explaining what engineering is, what they are going tobe teaching over the next few weeks and discovering what in particular the children mightlike to find out about or do during the project sessions. This short introduction to standing upand talking in front of a relatively large group on a topic that they know more about thananyone else in the room, provides the STP students with a much-needed confidence boost. Italso gives them some insight into the prior knowledge and interests of the children they willwork with. The initial visit to the school provides the STP students with some understandingof the culture of the school. They get a feel for the types of relationships that exist betweenteachers and their students, the type of learning that occurs in the classrooms (student-centredor teacher-centred, prescriptive or exploratory, intrinsically or extrinsically motivated) andthe protocols around being a visitor to the school. The quicker the STP students can fit inwith the accepted norms, the more enjoyable their placement is for them, their client and thechildren.Before the engineering students officially begin planning the scope and sequence for theirproject, they meet with the STP coordinator to clarify their understanding of their client’sobjectives for the project. This meeting provides the STP students with a timely reminder ofthe importance of listening to their client and keeping their client’s perspective of theproject’s outcomes at the forefront of their thinking. For many of the STP students, theirfocus for the project has become centred on what the children will do, rather than what thechildren will learn as a result of doing…The importance of purpose and learning the skills of collaboration: Effective oralcommunicators in the classroom, the boardroom or on site speak with a purpose. They knowupfront whether they want to convince, inform, identify a problem or open up a discussionand they structure their conversations and presentations accordingly.To be successful in their teaching, the STP students need to visualise the ‘big picture’ oftheir project first, so that they can plan and structure the individual lessons appropriately. Tosee their project as a whole and to begin the process of collaboration, students working at thesame school (planning team) work together to construct one concept map containing allthe key ideas, terms and activities that could be included in the project. As they create linkson the map, groupings of like information and activities form helping the students to identifyindividual lessons, and they begin to recognise which ideas are critical to meet the project’sobjectives versus those that are ‘nice to know but not necessary’ and where contingenciesneed to be considered. The process of forming the project’s overall structure brings outinteresting interdisciplinary discussions can reveal misconceptions in individuals’understandings.Most teams then make the decision to split the planning for the individual lessons betweenthem. The sharing of the responsibility for developing lesson plans often brings a moresophisticated level of team-work than is typically seen in other student group projects. Theycan’t simply rely on the ‘divide and conquer’ approach to doing a group assignment, as allmembers of the team ultimately need to take ownership of each lesson plan as they will besolely responsible for understanding and delivering all the content, organising the activitiesand answering questions once they begin working in their separate classrooms. When thestudents meet again to share their plans, it is done critically and collaboratively. Everymember of the team needs to leave the meeting with more than just the physical plans andPowerPoint presentation of ‘what’ will be done ‘when’ and by ‘whom’. They also need aclear understanding of ‘why’ specific components have been included in that particularsequence, excluded or modified and be aware of ‘how’ to introduce/demonstrate an idea orrun an activity so the children will learn how to apply, analyse, evaluate or create. Having aclear understanding of the purpose of each lesson component increases the chance that themessages delivered in the classroom are valid, logical, concise and clear, and gives the STPstudent the confidence to deliver the lesson and the flexibility to appropriately changecomponents of the lesson on the spot if necessary.“Being an international student, I have had a lot of self-doubts especially when it comes to communicating withpeople from different language and culture backgrounds. The school placement had given me a huge confidentboost as it made me realize that I could actually communicate efficiently and it was my lack of knowing how toprepare and lack of confidence in my head all along that was preventing me from doing it.” (Jacky)Knowing and catering to your audience: Effective communication is measured by thequality of the message that is received and understood rather than by the quality of themessage that is delivered. If we want to be effective communicators, we must be preparedto connect with our audience and adapt to their needs.The STP students are encouraged to use BSCS’s 5E Instructional Model for their lessonplanning. This approach uses Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate phases toidentify the prior knowledge of the children in their classes and creates the interest/motivation for them to want to know more. The different phases provide relevantopportunities for the children to investigate and question new ideas, language and conceptsuntil they can comfortably scaffold the new knowledge onto their existing knowledge andare able to own and apply it. The Explore phase is particularly useful for connecting withaudiences with a non-technical background or a language background different to thepresenter, as the audience can learn the basics in their language, which can later be translatedinto the appropriate jargon during the Explain’ phase.“This week I learnt my second lesson of teaching… There is no such thing as a concept too difficult for a studentto grasp – the key is teaching in a way that students can understand.” (Hoon)The 5E model also encourages instructors to design learning environments that areaccessible to audiences with a variety of different learning styles and preferences. The STPstudents are introduced to, and complete an assessment task on, two learning style theories,Felder-Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles and Fleming’s VARK, in the workshopsthat run before the school placement. In their lesson planning, they are expected to considerthe learning style preferences of the children they teach so that they include the appropriatemeans (analogies, associations, demonstrations, models, small group discussion etc.) andmethods (verbal and non-verbal communication, timing of questions and thinking etc.) ofcommunication to ensure the successful understanding of instructions/, ideas and concepts.One of the advantages of the STP students working with children is that children are notembarrassed to say that they don’t understand the idea being explained and will quite happilyask for the same concept to be re-explained multiple times. Explaining the idea the sameway, using the same example each time does not help. The STP students quickly learn that aspart of their planning for effective communication, they need to think of multiple ways ofexplaining the same idea and consider what types of examples would be most appropriate fortheir audience.“Before STP, I wasn’t aware of the different learning and communication styles and often found myselffrustrated and annoyed when people didn’t get ideas that I found easy and straight forward. Understanding thedifferent styles means that I can now change the way I explain things so that more will understand what I amtrying to say. This will definitely benefit me when I transition into the workplace, and will give me an edge incommunication.” (Ellen)Oral communication during the placement: The teaching placement provides theSTP students with the opportunity to practise effective two-way communication in a varietyof contexts with multiple audience types, requiring them to adjust their style accordingly.They talk with their client to establish and clarify expectations, to discuss and negotiate ideas,to establish a rapport and trust and to seek and respond to constructive feedback. Theyexplain their project to the School Principal and what learning they are gaining from theexperience. They communicate with a large group of children to engage, inform and convincethem, to explain technical concepts, give instructions and demonstrate how to do things. Theywork with small groups of children to motivate them, build team work, identify problems,resolve conflict and discuss and consolidate ideas, and work with individuals to understandtheir thinking and answer their questions. They collaborate with their peers to exchangeideas, create resources and solve problems and they talk with their mentor (STP coordinator)about their progress, concerns and learning and to organise the loan and use of equipment.While there is a considerable emphasis on teaching children and working with the constraintsand culture of a school during their placement, the students are also required to reflect onlessons learnt in the classroom and how they will be able to transfer their new learning intothe workplace.The role of feedback and reflection: The opportunity to teach a lesson, receiveimmediate constructive feedback and reflect on what worked and why, and what didn’t workand why with their teacher, colleagues and STP coordinator before planning the next lessonplays an important role in developing student capacity and confidence. Feeling comfortableabout asking for guidance and strategies empowers the students to try new means andmethods of communication and grow as a result.“I have learnt that asking for help appropriately is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness." (Andrew)ConclusionStudents learn best when they are active participants in their own learning, when theirlearning is purposeful and challenging and they are provided with opportunities to applytheir new understandings to authentic tasks. Students need to be able to evaluate their ownlearning and see opportunities to apply it to new contexts.The Schools’ Technology Project provides engineering students with a comprehensiveapproach to enhancing their oral communication skills required for global competence. Thestudents understand up front the value that accrediting bodies and employers place oneffective communication skills, providing the motivation for knowledge, skill and attitudedevelopment throughout the elective. The students are active participants in their learningand their communication of knowledge and collaborations with others are authentic.The school placement provides a supportive, professional environment for the engineeringstudents to practise and refine their oral communication skills. Schools are places whereeffective two-way communication is the focus, and where planning for effectivecommunication, having a purpose, knowing one’s audience and reflecting on learning isparamount. Schools are places of multiple perspectives and personalities, where there isnever one right way for communication to occur. They are places of learning, where steppingoutside comfort zones is encouraged and mistakes made are viewed as opportunities forlearning and growth. Teachers have the expertise to guide and give constructive feedbackand children are the barometers of communication success.Bibliography1. Jonassen, D., J. Strobel, and C.B. 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Bowering, R. (2013, June), Invited Paper - Preparing the Global Engineer: How learning to teach in a Service-Learning Project Develops Effective Communication Skills in Engineering Students Paper presented at 2013 ASEE International Forum, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--17251
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