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Technical Literacy in an Introduction to Engineering Course for Freshman Engineers

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

CoED General Technical Session I

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1265.1 - 25.1265.9



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Paper Authors


James E. Lewis University of Louisville

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James E. Lewis, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals in the J. B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville. His research interests include parallel and distributed computer systems, cryptography, engineering education, undergraduate retention, and technology (Tablet PCs) used in the classroom.

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Jeffrey Lloyd Hieb University of Louisville

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Jeffrey Hieb is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. His research interests include the use of technology in engineering education, secure operating systems, and cyber-security for industrial control systems.

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Technical Literacy in an Introduction to Engineering Course for Freshman EngineersLike most colleges of engineering, the XXX School of Engineering has increased itsexpectations of students’ technical literacy in recent years. This is highlighted by the decision in2007 to require incoming freshman to purchase a Tablet PC. Survey data from 2008 indicatedthat this was the first computer ever owned for 42% of freshmen surveyed. With the Tablet PCrequirement, the XXX School of Engineering also adopted the collaborative learning system(CLS) DyKnow, which is Tablet specific classroom software. More recently the Department ofXX has begun adopting the use of on-line multimedia textbooks with active content, such asalgorithmic homework problem generators with built-in systems for immediate help and grading.Though there are many students with excellent computer skills, the requirement that all studentsuse DyKnow, a Tablet PC, and on-line course content, has made it clear that all engineeringstudents lack the level of technical computer literacy needed to effectively participate in someXX courses. The XXX School of Engineering has also recently created a new required courseoffering: Introduction to Engineering. This course has many components, including softwareand Tablet PC use; making this course ideal for addressing the technical literacy shortcomings ofthe students.The authors have been working for several years developing technical literacy content for theIntroduction to Engineering course. This paper discusses the content developed, pedagogicalmotivations for the content and its delivery, observations and challenges, and develops ataxonomy for technical literacy for engineering students. There are two competing factors in thisproblem; improving student technical literacy, and decreasing the faculty effort required toovercome initial hurdles many students face. Due to resource and financial factors, a percentageof students arrive with a level of technical literacy that exceeds what can reasonably be expectedof all students. Therefore, a base line of technical hardware and software literacy is currentlyunder development, and instructors continually work to move students to that level. This paperprovides a taxonomy of the technical literacy components required for engineering students tosucceed, and offers justification for these components, as well as identified challenges. A keyobservation that has yet to be adequately addressed is the discontinuity between students’perceptions of their technical literacy (65% rated themselves above average) and their actualtechnical literacy. This disconnect can frustrate both students and instructors, and also disruptlearning. Even with the vast computer literacy improvements over the years, there is still muchthat needs to be addressed. However, given the short amount of time allotted, students in thecourse (400+) do generally achieve a sufficient level of technical literacy in a very short time,about one week, but there is much room for improvement. Going forward, the authors expectthat developing a taxonomy and formalism, will lead to improved teacher efficiency and studenttechnical literacy.

Lewis, J. E., & Hieb, J. L. (2012, June), Technical Literacy in an Introduction to Engineering Course for Freshman Engineers Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22022

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