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Tagmemics: Using a Communication Heuristic to Teach Problem Solving

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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

Teaching Problem Solving in a Multidisciplinary Context

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1456.1 - 26.1456.12



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Paper Authors


Katherine Hennessey Wikoff Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Katherine Wikoff is a professor in the General Studies Department at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where she teaches courses in communication, literature, film studies, and political science. She has a B.A in Political Science from Wright State University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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Cynthia Wise Barnicki Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Tagmemics: Using a Communication Heuristic to Teach Problem Solving ABSTRACTOne of the more difficult things for engineering students to learn is the ability to view problemsas part of a larger system (or multiple systems). Detail-oriented students see individual “trees”quite well, but they are less skilled at recognizing the “forest” of context(s) in which a problem issituated.This paper discusses a truly multidisciplinary approach to organizing thought: “tagmemics.” Asubfield of linguistics, tagmemics was greatly influenced in its origin by ideas from earlytwentieth-century theoretical physics. The man who developed tagmemics, Kenneth Pike, washimself a multidisciplinary man, both a linguist and an anthropologist. His scholarship duringthe 1960s focused primarily on linguistic application of his new theory, but in 1970 he and co-authors Richard Young and Alton Becker published a widely influential textbook, Rhetoric:Discovery and Change, that brought tagmemics to the field of writing instruction.Today, 45 years after its publication, Rhetoric: Discovery and Change is still frequently cited inthe scholarship of rhetoric and composition studies. This text introduced writing teachers notonly to the physics-influenced theory of tagmemics but also to another completely new approachto writing instruction influenced by the theories of psychologist Carl Rogers, known as“Rogerian rhetoric.” (This reference to Rogerian rhetoric is merely a side note to emphasizeonce again the extensively multidisciplinary nature of this groundbreaking textbook.)The beauty of tagmemics for engineering educators is both its simplicity and its complexity. Itprovides a framework for classifying phenomena but at the same time is far more than just ataxonomizing device. Within the intersections of the grid (shown below) are contained all thestatic and dynamic relationships among various states of existence and experience. Tagmemicsgives students a straightforward process for conceptualizing reality and discovering meaning inchaotic, ambiguous environments. Contrast Variation DistributionParticleWaveFieldThis paper will explain the concept of tagmemics and demonstrate practical examples of itsapplication so that faculty from multiple disciplines can incorporate the paradigm-expandingtheory into their own teaching practice.The paper responds to the Multidisciplinary Engineering Division’s Call for Papers on“Integration of engineering and the liberal arts,” especially “Best practices in fusing liberal artsand engineering curricular and co-curricular activities.” The paper may also be appropriate forinclusion in the LEES (Liberal Education/Engineering & Society) Division’s “EngineeringCommunication across Divisions” thematic initiative.

Wikoff, K. H., & Barnicki, C. W. (2015, June), Tagmemics: Using a Communication Heuristic to Teach Problem Solving Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24793

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