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Practikon: A Mobile-first Practice/Feedback Application to Support the Development of Communication Skills in Technical Subjects

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Mobile Devices and Apps

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1237.1 - 26.1237.12



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Paper Authors


Andreas Karatsolis MIT

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Andreas Karatsolis is the Associate Director of Writing,Rhetoric and Professional Communication as Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His disciplinary training includes a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Communication with an emphasis on technical/professional communication in science-related fields, which is at the core of his teaching and research efforts. In his position at MIT and as a member of the Administrative Committee of the IEEE Professional Communication Society, he is primarily interested in designing curricula and tools which can help engineers and scientists develop life-long competencies in communication. In the past seven years he has also been the Lead of co-Principal Investigator in projects related to the design, implementation and assessment of learning technologies, especially in the domains of language learning, health communication and public discourse.

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Suguru Ishizaki Carnegie Mellon University

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Suguru Ishizaki is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Communication Design in the Department of English at Carnegie Mellon. His current research interests include pedagogy of commu-nication and design for students and professionals in the technology/engineering disciplines, and computer-aided rhetorical analysis.

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Marsha C. Lovett Carnegie Mellon University

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Dr. Marsha Lovett is Carnegie Mellon University's Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, and Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology. She applies theoretical and empirical principles from cognitive psychology to improve teaching and learning. She has published more than fifty articles in this area, co-authored the book How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, and developed several innovative, educational technologies, including StatTutor and the Learning Dashboard.

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Mollie Kaufer Carnegie Mellon University

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Mollie is a student in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University. Her background is in language learning and communication. She focused on learning Arabic and Mandarin and teaching professional communication skills to ESL audiences in technical fields. Professional communication, in her view, was as an important extension of English language learning. She is currently most interested in using language socially and professionally to connect people across cultures and disciplines.

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Stacie L. Rohrbach Carnegie Mellon University

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Practikon: a mobile-first practice/feedback application to support the development of communication skills in technical subjects.Studies of teacher comments on student writing in the Sciences and Engineering suggest thatfeedback is often limited to lower-order concerns such as grammar and formatting (Connors andLunsford 1986, Stern and Solomon 2006). Recently, some studies indicate that instructors havebegun to focus on higher order rhetorical concerns as well (Dixon and Moxley 2013), which are,in fact, the type of concerns most prominent in workplace reviews (Swarts 2004). Research inthe Learning Sciences has shown us, however, that effective feedback has to be targeted andcoupled with goal-directed practice (Ambrose et al. 2010). In short, to help students or technicalstaff improve their communication skills, goal-directed practice on higher-order rhetorical issuesis necessary.In the proposed paper, we will describe a mobile-first application aimed at providing studentsand engineering or technology professionals with just-in-time practice on technical/scientificcommunication skills and strategies called Practikon. Practikon presents users with rhetorically-based problem sets based on authentic texts and contexts (from their discipline or field), in whichthe goal is to identify an effective solution to the problem from a set of options; however, usersnot only have to consider correctness (as it is common in workbook-type activities), but also therhetorical appropriateness of each solution, in terms of context, audience, purpose and genre.For example, a question of concision is not presented as an exercise on reducing the number ofwords, but as an activity to consider the most rhetorically appropriate and effective options giventhe limitations of the genre and audience expectations. As the activities progress, combinationsof skills and their associated rhetorical trade-offs are presented.The paper will also report on a pilot study conducted within an IT department of a largeeducation organization, in which users were introduced to Practikon, and were then assignedauthentic writing tasks by their supervisor. An analysis of the participants’ use of the application(time, number of modules completed, number of tries) was conducted and was correlated to theeffectiveness of the documents they produced. Post-task reflective interviews were alsoconducted to uncover level of engagement with the application and ease of use.The results of this preliminary study show that, after interacting with Practikon, the participantsemployed an audience-sensitive rhetorical approach when they composed, and showed anincreased concern for applying appropriate rhetorical moves based on genre and purpose. Bysolving rhetorically-based problems, participants were able to transfer some basic skills into theirwriting, such as the use of metadiscourse, the use of “known” information for the audience tocreate cohesion between concepts, or even using parallel structures to allow readers to navigatethe text. The implications and future research opportunities surrounding such just-in-time,discipline-specific learning applications for the communication skills of engineering andtechnology professionals and students will also be discussed.

Karatsolis, A., & Ishizaki, S., & Lovett, M. C., & Kaufer, M., & Rohrbach, S. L. (2015, June), Practikon: A Mobile-first Practice/Feedback Application to Support the Development of Communication Skills in Technical Subjects Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24574

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