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Pre-post Assessment in a Speaking Communications Course and the Importance of Reflection in Student Development of Speaking Skills

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Improving Presentation Skills Through Summer Research and Ambassador Programs

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Jennifer R. Amos University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Dr Amos joined the Bioengineering Department at the University of Illinois in 2009 and is currently a Teaching Associate Professor in Bioengineering and an Adjunct Associate Professor in Educational Psychology. She received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Texas Tech and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from University of South Carolina. She completed a Fulbright Program at Ecole Centrale de Lille in France to benchmark and help create a new hybrid masters program combining medicine and engineering and also has led multiple curricular initiative in Bioengineering and the College of Engineering on several NSF funded projects.

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Marie-Christine Brunet University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Dr. Brunet earned her PhD in Computer Science in 1989 from the University of Paris IX. She has been an Assistant Dean in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign since 2012. Prior to her current position, she taught various Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Computer Science undergraduate courses for over 20 years. She currently co-teaches "Engineering at Illinois", a class to help 450 students explore engineering majors, and co-teaches "Technical Communication", a class that focuses on presentation techniques . Her interests are in Academic Integrity, Online Classes, Digital Technology, Public Speaking, and Engineering Education.

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Engineering graduates are often not prepared for industry’s high expectations for communication skills [1]. Engineers can no longer succeed on technical skill alone, they must understand how to collaborate, communicate, and give and receive feedback in order the thrive in their careers [2]. In order to support engineering graduates to meet this goal, a network of schools has created the Engineering Ambassadors (EA) Program. Each school has a program that trains students to achieve excellence in communication as well as to appreciate both giving and receiving critique. This abstract outlines the approach at one of the EA-affiliated schools to create a course where these skills are taught, not only to EAs, but to any student who wants to learn better communication skills.

The course focuses on the assertion-evidence approach for presentations. The assertion-evidence approach emphasizes three principles: build the talk on messages, not topics; support those messages with visual evidence, not bullet lists; and explain that evidence by speaking in the moment [3]. The course is delivered across three modules: content, visual aids, delivery. The content section encompasses structure and story. From a structural point of view, students are guided to think about questions like “where do you start?”, “how much depth should you give?”, etc. The visual aids section teaches the assertion-evidence approach. This approach is more difficult than following PowerPoint’s defaults; however, this approach is much more effective at communicating technical information [3]. In the delivery section, students learn how to achieve confidence through body language, poise, and elocution. Students present three times in pairs during the class. There are four main learning outcomes of this class 1) Identify content for audience for a given presentation setting, 2) Critique presentations on the basis of content, delivery, and visual aids, 3) Design slides that increase effectiveness of communication and delivery of content, 4) Interact in teams to design slides and present topics. A custom 4-scale rubric was created to assess organization, elocution, poise, body language, enthusiasm, and creativity along with check boxes to asses several assertion-evidence specific techniques.

This paper presents assessment tools to measure effectiveness of the aforementioned teaching approach for communication skills. Three assessments were performed of each student in the course: a pre-assessment before the training, a mid-semester assessment, and a final assessment. All assessments were given during a presentation and were both peer and instructor marked according to the course rubric. Overall, students saw an average improvement in overall performance of 17.3% ± 8.9% (N=18) across the three presentations. In addition, students were asked to keep online reflective journals about their progress during the course. The journals proved critical to helping students reconcile critiques and reflect on their own improvement in the course.

This course serves as a model for instruction of oral communication skills for engineering students. In future offerings, the course will be expanded to accommodate a larger body of students, allowing it to serve as an excellent source for assessment of oral communication skills towards attainment of student learning outcomes.

1. Darling, A. L., & Dannels, D. P. (2003). Practicing engineers talk about the importance of talk: A report on the role of oral communication in the workplace. Communication Education, 52(1), 1-16. 2. Lappalainen, P. (2009). Communication as part of the engineering skills set.European Journal of Engineering Education, 34(2), 123-129. 3. Joanna Garner, Michael Alley, Allen Gaudelli, and Sarah Zappe (2009). The common use of PowerPoint versus the assertion–evidence structure: A cognitive psychology perspective. Technical Communication, 56 (4).

Amos, J. R., & Brunet, M. (2017, June), Pre-post Assessment in a Speaking Communications Course and the Importance of Reflection in Student Development of Speaking Skills Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28751

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