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Making Clocks: A First Year Course Integrating Professional Communications With An Introduction To Engineering

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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

1.306.1 - 1.306.10



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Paper Authors

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W. Bernard Carlson

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Karin Peterson

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

Session 2553

Making Clocks: A First-Year Course Integrating Professional Communications with an Introduction to Engineering

W. Bernard Carlson and Karin Peterson University of Virginia

As engineering educators worry about attracting and training outstanding undergraduates, it has become important to develop strong first-year courses that introduce students to engineering as a discipline and a profession. A strong introductory course is vital because first-year engineering students arrive at the university with a variety of needs which must be addressed immediately if they are to have four productive years. Fresh out of high school, students often come to engineering school with only a hazy notion of what engineers do and what kind of knowledge engineers use. As students take up the standard requirements in calculus, chemistry, graphics, computer languages and professional communications, they frequently need to have an exciting and meaningful learning experience, a creative experience that motivates them to stay in engineering. To survive the heavy math and science load, students must also acquire new study skills; in particular, to master new abstract concepts, they need to learn how integrate the words, diagrams, and equations used to explain those concepts in their textbooks. In their communications class, fwst-year students are often frustrated to discover that the expository and interpretive writing skills learned in high school do not necessarily prepare them to write in a precise, analytical, and professional manner. But above all, fwst-year students need to acquire a framework for thinking about engineering, a framework which will help them to integrate the ideas and skills which they will acquire during their four-year education.

To meet these many needs of first-year students, engineering schools have developed a variety of introductory courses. Frequently, these courses introduce students to either the different branches of engineering or some of the tools of engineering--basic concepts, mathematical techniques, and software packages. At a few schools, the introductory course is now a design class in which the students are asked to come up with a creative solution to a problem as a way of whetting their appetite for the more demanding courses to come. 1 At the University of Virginia, first-year students currently take three entry-level courses. Engineering 160 covers basic software packages (Mathcad, Silverscreen, and Quattro Pro) and Engineering 164 introduces design.

While these two courses provide UVA frost-year students with many of the tools and concepts they need for their engineering studies, a third course provides an intellectual introduction to engineering. In our sections of TCC 101, Language Communications in a Technological Society, we challenge the students to think about the nature of engineering by having them build a mechanical clock timer kit and then preparing a series of writing and speaking assignments related to the clock. The writing assignments include maintaining an engineering notebook, revising the kit’s assembly instructions, and preparing an illustrated technical description. The students also work in teams to design an improved clock timer, draft a patent application, and prepare a proposal for manufacturing and marketing their improved versions. To hone their public speaking skills, the student teams are required to present their patents and manufacturing proposals before the class. By combining this hands-on exercise with communications assignments, this course helps students to appreciate the range of activities (design, analysis, patenting, and cost calculations) that constitute engineering, and it prepares them to understand and appreciate the variety of courses they will take over the remainder of their undergraduate education.

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Carlson, W. B., & Peterson, K. (1996, June), Making Clocks: A First Year Course Integrating Professional Communications With An Introduction To Engineering Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia. 10.18260/1-2--6170

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