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The Growth Of Text Literacy In Engineering Undergraduates

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Knowing Our Students II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1295.1 - 11.1295.13



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Paper Authors


Roman Taraban Texas Tech University

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Roman Taraban is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Texas Tech University. He received his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. His interests are in how undergraduate students learn, and especially, how they draw meaningful connections in traditional college content materials (e.g., textbooks, lectures, multi-media).
Address: Department of Psychology, Mail Stop 2051, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, 79409; telephone: 806-742-3711 ext. 247; fax: 806-742-0818; email:

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

The Growth of Text Literacy in Engineering Undergraduates


The reading behaviors of experts in areas like physics have shown that experts in science domains are very active while reading—i.e., drawing from background knowledge, applying comprehension strategies, and responding to the author. Relatedly, the Perry model, which depicts students’ epistemic orientations—i.e., how they value and respond to knowledge—indicates that freshmen are typically dualists, expecting information to be either true or false, but by their senior years, students recognize the relativism in knowledge, and the role of discourse in establishing consensus. Two questions were researched in this study, using a questionnaire methodology: i) Do engineering students become more active and metacognitive readers between their freshman and senior years; ii) do engineering students become less “transmission” oriented and more “transaction” oriented in their beliefs about text? The results are considered in terms of their consistency with other available data about engineering students’ study behaviors, and in terms of implications for the design of undergraduate engineering curricula.


The claim that “Engineering is a profoundly creative process”1 seems entirely correct as a description of the nature of professional engineering. It also conveys a sense of the mindset and skill levels that are set as goals for advanced students in engineering through the ABET standards. How does a student become a reflective thinker and effective problem solver? This paper considers the role that text literacy may play in advancing engineering students toward the goal of making them reflective and creative problem- solvers.

A bit of skepticism may surround the idea that effective reading has much to do with engineering. Indeed, some educators have suggested that course textbooks provide no more than supplemental information and can be disposed of. To a large degree, associating scientific literacy with the passive deciphering of the words in a science textbook takes too narrow a view of the concept 2. Rather, scientific literacy in a fundamental sense encompasses all the basic abilities of skilled reading, but also includes applying higher-order skills, like distinguishing between a hypothesis and a conjecture, data and evidence, and speculations and conclusions. Scientific literacy allows the person to capture an author’s intended meaning, but also to go beyond it.

The present paper considers how engineering students may develop text literacy in two specific ways, which are operationalized in detail later. One is in their ability to become more cognitively engaged when processing text. The second way is by taking a “critical” (i.e., analytic) stance toward the author and material. Although text comprehension and the concept of literacy are well-researched and well-defined outside of engineering, this is the first attempt to consider these issues in the engineering domain.

Taraban, R. (2006, June), The Growth Of Text Literacy In Engineering Undergraduates Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--133

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