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Overcoming the Challenges of Implementing Technical Communication in a Capstone Senior Design Course

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Why Industry Says that our Engineering Students Cannot Write

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1135.1 - 22.1135.14



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Paper Authors


Scott Duncan Valparaiso University

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Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering

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Mark M. Budnik Valparaiso University

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Jeffrey Will Valparaiso University

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Peter E. Johnson Valparaiso University

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Shahin S. Nudehi Valparaiso University

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Overcoming the Challenges of Implementing Technical Communication in a Capstone Senior Design CourseNumerous publications have emphasized the importance of technical communication skills in thefield of engineering. Results of a 1999 survey from engineering graduates who have been in theworkforce from three to five years showed that approximately 64 percent of their overall worktime is spent on some form of communication and based on a focus group of 50 individualsrepresenting both academic and non-academic engineers, communication competent ranked asthe second most important engineering attribute.Capstone Senior Design courses are typically selected to evaluate and enhance the technicalcommunication skills of engineering students. Accordingly, many studies have been completedto investigate the effectiveness of technical communication pedagogical methods. Although thepedagogical methods are important, effective implementation of technical communicationinstruction in Capstone Senior Design courses is difficult.To effectively implement technical communication into a Capstone Senior Design course, fourmain challenges must be overcome. This paper provides techniques used to address thesechallenges.The first challenge is to provide students with consistent, quality feedback. This task iscomplicated in Capstone Senior Design courses because multiple faculty typically instruct thecourse. To overcome this challenge, consistent feedback is achieved through the use of gradingrubrics and weekly faculty meetings to discuss course content and calibrate grading techniques.Additionally, some assignments, such as oral presentations, are evaluated by multiple facultymembers and videotaped. To provide quality feedback, the course requires multiple written andoral presentation assignments, providing the opportunity for students to receive criticism,implement changes, and improve. Moreover, both individual and group communicationassignments and presentations are required. This does not allow individual performance to bemasked by group performance. Finally, performance reviews by the team's members and facultyadvisor are performed six times, providing feedback from multiple sources.The second challenge is to overcome resource constraints to effectively implementcommunication instruction in the course. The faculty incorporates multiple strategies toovercome resource constraints including time limits on oral presentations and page limits onwritten assignments. Also, because grading time is reduced when quality work is submitted,individual writing assignments require a review by a team member prior to submission andbonus points are provided for high quality first submissions.The third challenge is to provide students with exposure to multiple communication mediumsand audiences. To address this challenge, students work in multiple communication mediums bycompleting written documentation, group dynamics, and teamwork assignments and byproviding oral, poster, and video presentations. Moreover, students communicate with a diverseaudience including students, faculty, outside sponsors, the general public during an open house,and occasionally conference attendees.The fourth challenge is to develop techniques to motivate students to improve theircommunication skills. Because technical communication is a significant portion of the CapstoneSenior Design course grade, students are motivated to improve their communication skills.Additionally, course milestones such as design reviews have been created where teams must becapable of communicating their work effectively to proceed on their project.

Duncan, S., & Budnik, M. M., & Will, J., & Johnson, P. E., & Nudehi, S. S. (2011, June), Overcoming the Challenges of Implementing Technical Communication in a Capstone Senior Design Course Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18847

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