San Antonio, Texas
June 10, 2012
June 10, 2012
June 13, 2012
25.1120.1 - 25.1120.10
Report-Smithing: Developing Effective Written Communication SkillsEffective communication is one of the key attributes future engineers need to be competitive inthe global market according to the National Academy of Engineers1. Yet feedback from industryemployers often indicates the communication skills of recent engineering graduates to beunsatisfactory 2. This paper describes a strategy to improve student written communication skillsand more importantly to improve student engagement with the subject matter through thedevelopment of more thoughtful and peer reviewed writing using critical thinking skills.In a typical engineering technology program, a large proportion of the curriculum is centered onlaboratory work with the intent of exposing students to extensive hands-on experiences. As ameans of assessment of these experiences, course instructors will often require submission ofdetailed laboratory reports. The perfect opportunity to begin the practice of effective writtencommunication is in a first semester laboratory setting. This paper discusses the techniques usedin a first semester engineering technology course to target student acquisition of effectivecommunication through the writing of laboratory reports.This course used a new, innovative method of teaching report writing. Rather than assigning afull laboratory report each week following the completion of a laboratory exercise, specializedwriting assignments were given pertaining to individual sections of a formal report that istypically required in the university. Assignments were of a smaller, more focused andmanageable scale for the student. Each assignment was carefully constructed and incorporatedattributes of a writing-across-the-curriculum program. Each assignment included a writingsample that demonstrated the key tactics for the development of a particular report section.Peer reviews and revision opportunities allowed for continuous improvement of the writingprocess. Peer reviews in addition to instructor comments, provided student feedback from avariety of readers. These reviews also encouraged students to observe and learn from eachother’s creative approaches to the assignments. Week by week students were able to graduallybuild skills and improve their self-confidence in their technical writing abilities. The course wasstructured to promote writing as a process. By the eighth assignment, all individual componentsof the formal report were covered. The culmination of the previous assignments was the“Putting it all Together Assignment”. At this point, the student should have all the toolsnecessary for writing a professional, well formulated laboratory report. The student has beenencouraged to think about how they will organize their written report during calculations ofexpected results, while performing the laboratory exercise, and throughout the recording of keymeasurements. By stimulating this formulation process and encouraging critical thinking, thestudents not only produce a well-structured written document, but gain a deeper understanding ofthe purpose of the laboratory exercise and how it relates to the course subject matter.Student surveys and comparison of quality of writing to previous years will provide the initialdata to measure the effectiveness of the approach. The student reports in subsequent years willprovide a measure of long term effectiveness of the approach. In addition, the paper will providedetails of the steps taken in improving effective written communications so as to enable otherinstructors to adopt the techniques used.References1. NAE (National Academy of Engineering). 2005. Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.2. J. Donnell, B. Aller, M. Alley, and A. Kedrowicz. 2011. Why Industry Says That Engineering Graduates Have Poor Communication Skills: What the Literature Says. 2011 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. AC 2011-1503. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: American Society of Engineering Education.
Shannon, J. M., & Nathan, R. (2012, June), Report-smithing: Developing Effective Written Communication Skills Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/21877
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