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Small Steps And Big Strides

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1003.1 - 7.1003.8



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Paper Authors

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Roger Wallace

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David Adams

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Session 2793

Small Steps and Big Strides: a Department-Based Plan for Integrating Technical Communication into an Engineering Curriculum

David Adams, Roger Wallace Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering Michigan State University (MSU)


Providing technical communication instruction within existing courses can challenge the human and financial resources of a department. Such a challenge becomes even more daunting in the absence of university or college funded programs. The Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at MSU has undertaken a three-year plan to integrate such instruction into its curricula and to assess the results of that effort. Based upon alumni and faculty surveys, the department has designated core competencies in this area and has developed activities to seed instruction and reinforcement of those competencies within upper level courses. These activities include annotated model lab reports, assignment templates, an online technical writing handbook, a student-run satellite writing center housed in the department, and teachable-points-of-view. The latter present the accumulated expertise of faculty members regarding a particular assignment. Roger Wallace and David Adams describe the genesis and design of the plan and offer examples that illustrate how the plan works. Wallace and Adams also discuss some of the issues encountered including how introducing a structured writing component sparked a reexamination of course content. They also present preliminary assessments of the plan.

I. Introduction

In recent years the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE) at Michigan State University has faced a reality confronting many engineering departments across the country. Engineering undergraduates are typically not well prepared to undertake the sort of technical communications tasks that they will face upon graduation. If the concerns of faculty, alumni and employers were not enough, the ABET Criterion 2000 standards have focused even greater attention on this issue.

After several aborted efforts to solve the problem, in 1999 the department committed itself to hiring a full-time technical writing specialist as part of a three-year plan to integrate technical writing instruction into its curricula. At that point, only one other department (Mechanical Engineering) in the college had such an effort in place, and there were no college-wide or university resources available to build such a program. That situation remains current. In addition, at MSU engineering students take the bulk of their first and second year courses outside the college of engineering, and do not choose their engineering majors until their junior year. Furthermore, a new engineering dean was hired with the expressed goal of improving the research reputation of the college. All of

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Wallace, R., & Adams, D. (2002, June), Small Steps And Big Strides Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10084

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