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Revisiting Communication Experiences to Prepare for Professional Practice

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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

22.1257.1 - 22.1257.20



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Paper Authors


Kathryn Mobrand University of Washington

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Kathryn Mobrand is a doctoral candidate and research assistant in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. She is working with Dr. Jennifer Turns on preparedness portfolios for engineering undergraduates; her focus is on the communication of practicing engineers.

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Jennifer A Turns University of Washington

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Jennifer Turns is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. She is interested in all aspects of engineering education, including how to support engineering students in reflecting on experience, how to help engineering educators make effective teaching decisions, and the application of ideas from complexity science to the challenges of engineering education.

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Revisiting Communication Experiences to Prepare for Professional Practice “In the computer science curriculum, we do nothing like this [creating the portfolio]. There is no time to reflect on past experience. I’ve never really stopped to consider what particular competencies I excel at.”In the above quote, a student discusses her experience constructing a communication portfolio.This quote is from our study investigating the effectiveness of portfolio construction as amechanism for understanding and developing students’ conceptions of the communicationpractices of professional engineers, and for exploring students’ self-efficacy and motivation forlearning about, and engaging in, professional communication. Our work fits within efforts in thefield to develop and evaluate innovative pedagogy for technical communication instruction forengineering students, as well as efforts to understand the ways in which students think about thecommunication of practicing engineers.In the study reported here, we are focusing specifically on students’ conceptions of engineeringcommunication and their perceptions of the portfolio studio experience. To accomplish this, weanalyze the content of five communication portfolios created by engineering undergraduates, inwhich they made arguments about their preparedness to communicate as practicing engineers.We also analyze survey responses of these five students.To investigate conceptions of communication, we structured our analysis around threedimensions: (1) breadth—what students think “counts” as engineering communication(e.g., written and oral forms; blogs, email, or videos; school and life-wide experiences);(2) situatedness—students’ recognition of the importance of adapting communication for thecontext in which it occurs; and (3) empowerment—students’ understanding of the ways in whicheffective communication can empower them to bring about action. In looking at perceptions ofthe portfolio studio, we organized our analysis around three dimensions: (1) peer review andsharing; (2) uniqueness of the experience; and (3) revisiting or reflecting. The identification ofthese six dimensions was motivated by visions articulated in The Engineer of 2020 report and inthe ABET criteria, by our prior research studies, and by experiences drawn from directing acommunication program. These dimensions align well with recent calls by researchers for futurework looking at what constitutes effective communication for practicing engineers, how studentslearn communication through different media and genres, and how we can increase our focus onpeer learning.Our preliminary analysis reveals that these students are thinking broadly and creatively aboutwhat counts as professional communication; that they are explicitly addressing the importance oftailoring communication for a specific community; and that they are seeing the potential forempowerment through communication. One student noted, for example, “Engineers that cancommunicate well are better collaborators, and often get more opportunities to shine, since theyare usually the team member that presents work.” Our initial analysis also indicates that thesestudents value peer review and discussion, find the portfolio studio experience unique, andbenefit from reflecting on their past experiences. In the paper, we will provide more details oneach of these dimensions and comment on evidence concerning their interrelatedness.

Mobrand, K., & Turns, J. A. (2011, June), Revisiting Communication Experiences to Prepare for Professional Practice Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18815

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