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The Effect Of A Targeted Speech Communication Course On The Public Speaking Self Efficacy Of Engineering Undergraduates

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Learning to Communicate with Engineers and Non-Engineers

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1219.1 - 13.1219.13



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Paper Authors


Mieke Schuurman Pennsylvania State University

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Mieke Schuurman is an engineering education research associate with the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University. She received her Masters and PhD in Social & Organizational Psychology from the University of Groningen (The Netherlands). Her work focuses on the enhancement of engineering education. She is a member of ASEE and WEPAN, and actively involved in ASEE's Cooperative Education Division as their Research Chair. She has presented her work at annual conferences of ASEE, WEPAN, and CEIA, and published in the Journal of Engineering Education, the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, the European Journal of Social Psychology, and the European Review of Social Psychology.

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Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University

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Michael Alley is an associate professor of engineering communication in the College of Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations (Springer, 2003) and regularly gives workshops on engineering presentations for different institutions including Sandia National Laboratories, the SPIE, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Simula Research Laboratory (Norway).

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Melissa Marshall Pennsylvania State University

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Melissa Marshall is a lecturer with the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences in the College of the Liberal Arts at The Pennsylvania State University.

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Christopher Johnstone Pennsylvania State University

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Christopher Johnstone is an associate professor of Communication Arts and Sciences with the College of the Liberal Arts at The Pennsylvania State University.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

The Effect of a Targeted Speech Communication Course on the Public Speaking Self-Efficacy of Engineering Undergraduates


This paper reports on how tailoring a speech communication course at The Pennsylvania State University specifically for engineering undergraduates affected the public speaking self- efficacy of those students—a project partially funded by the Engineering Information Foundation. This paper focuses on the following research question: Did engineering students who completed an engineering section feel more confident in their ability to communicate effectively than engineering students who completed a regular section? Overall, students in the engineering sections increased their public speaking self-efficacy slightly more than students in the regular sections; this difference approached statistical significance (p = .06). One reason the differences in the increases were not statistically significant might have been because of the relatively small sample sizes: 52 reporting in the engineering sections, but only 23 engineering students reporting from the regular sections. One statistically significant increase did occur for the issue of visual aids (.02), which is not surprising since the engineering sections taught the assertion–evidence slide design, which has a stronger theoretical basis than the commonly followed topic–subtopic design propagated by PowerPoint’s defaults. Approaching statistical significance was the issue of delivery, which follows because the engineering sections promoted the engineering style of thinking through the content and maintaining eye contact while speaking, as opposed to continually looking down at note cards. Because of these increases in the scores and the enthusiasm shown by the participating students for the engineering sections, the College of Engineering desires to increase the number of engineering sections to meet the anticipated demand.


A challenge for engineering colleges, particularly large colleges, is to improve the presentation skills of students. One common strategy is to have engineering students take a general speech course from a communications department. Another strategy is to incorporate speaking components into engineering courses such as senior design. Still a third strategy, which The Pennsylvania State University has adopted, is to use a combination of these two strategies. In theory, a combination of the general speech course with the discipline-specific presentation components should provide students with a balance between general communication theory and practical advice. In practice, though, we have observed that students perceive conflicts in the advice that they receive from the speech course and the engineering courses with presentation components. For instance, some students point out that speaking from note cards is allowed (and even encouraged) in the general speech courses, but is frowned upon in the engineering courses on the grounds that, for engineering audiences, holding onto note cards undercuts the credibility of the speaker.

Schuurman, M., & Alley, M., & Marshall, M., & Johnstone, C. (2008, June), The Effect Of A Targeted Speech Communication Course On The Public Speaking Self Efficacy Of Engineering Undergraduates Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3210

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