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The Ability To Communicate Effectively: Using Portfolios To Assess Engineering Communication

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.978.1 - 6.978.9



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Julia Williams

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The Ability to Communicate Effectively: Using Portfolios to Assess Engineering Communication

Julia M. Williams, Ph.D. Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Technical Communication Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, IN 47803

This paper analyzes the difference between individual student assessment and program assessment, demonstrating the ways in which portfolios can offer important information for outcomes assessment at both levels. I discuss the basic principles of portfolio administration, such as portfolio design/format and portfolio set up, and then discuss ways in which portfolio objectives, including evaluation rubrics, may be developed. Special emphasis is placed on communicating portfolio objectives to students and the efficacy of reflective statements as a way to make the portfolio rating process more efficient. The end result of portfolio assessment is a clearer picture of students’ communication skills and valuable feedback for students and professors.

I. Introduction

At first glance, assessing student learning outcomes in communication effectiveness would seem an easy task. For some engineering departments, good communication is distilled in the instruction to students that they must write and speak “clearly” in order to “communicate effectively.” For others, good communication is defined by the department writing manual and can be assessed by counting up the number of grammatical errors in a document. Unfortunately, these two definitions lead students into misapprehensions regarding what constitutes effective engineering communication, how they should develop those skills, and how their skills will be assessed. My issue here is the current state of communication skills development and evaluation that have been inspired by ABET EC 2000. While the national effort to improve students’ skills (both in communication and the other objectives areas) are laudable, many engineering programs encounter difficulties with assessment plan development, particularly after deciding to use portfolios to document student learning. The move to portfolios was clearly inspired by ABET documentation that cited portfolios as one means of data collection. In response, engineering programs have attempted to use portfolios for data collection, but often the results are mixed. Faculty complain of increased workloads, students do not see the correlation between course goals and portfolio objectives, and administrators envision portfolios as merely another means of grading student work.

I contend that if portfolios are to be of use to engineering programs, to improve both faculty pedagogy and student learning, then we need to devise a portfolio that meets the needs of engineering education. By this I mean that many of the portfolio models we are

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Williams, J. (2001, June), The Ability To Communicate Effectively: Using Portfolios To Assess Engineering Communication Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--8877

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