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To Arrive Where We Started And Know The Place For The First Time? Re Visioning Technical Communication

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.442.1 - 2.442.2

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Kathryn A. Neeley

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Session 2561

To Arrive Where We Started and Know the Place for the First Time? Re-visioning Technical Communication

Kathryn A. Neeley Technology, Culture, and Communication/University of Virginia

Teachers of technical communication are likely to welcome the emphasis the ABET 2000 accreditation criteria place on effective communication as an integral component of engineering preparation and practice. But we would do well to remember that we are hardly the first to attempt to transform engineering education by giving communication a more prominent place in the curriculum.’ Engineering educators, industrial leaders, and others concerned with engineering education seem virtually unanimous in their insistence that communication is essential to success in engineering and thus to engineering education, yet they provide few details about either the ways communication ability is demonstrated or the specific knowledge, skills, and experiences that form the foundation of an ability to communicate effectively. This situation offers opportunities along with intellectual and institutional challenges.

From a practical point of view, one of the most significant aspects of the new criteria is that they abandon the dichotomy in which courses dealing with language were presumed to be either “skills” courses or intellectually broadening courses, and courses in technical communication usually were designed as skills courses. This dichotomy isolates communication and minimizes its connection to professional development and intellectual activity. At most institutions, these tendencies are exacerbated by disciplinary and departmental structures.

By contrast, the discussions related to the new criteria have been dominated by the vocabulary of integration and interdisciplinarity, a vocabulary that reflects a new view of engineers, their expertise, and their relations with others. This new vocabulary arises at least in part from cultural changes related to technology, changes that we need to understand and exploit in order to effect significant change in a curriculum that has proved remarkably resistant to change. To put it another way, we must re-vision our notions about technical communication in order to revise the curriculum successfully. Perhaps more significantly, we must induce our engineering colleagues to share that vision.

The current emphasis on communication as a professional engineering skill is often attributed to the perception that lack of communication ability keeps engineers out of corporate boardrooms and executive suites and limits the influence of the engineering profession as a whole. While this perception is undoubtedly an important motivation for putting more emphasis on communication, it offers only a partial foundation for a curriculum. To create the courses, pedagogical approaches, and assessment tools that will make communication an integral part of professional engineering education, we will need to go beyond generalizations and ready explanations to inquire into (1) the specific knowledge, skills, and experiences that constitute the

Neeley, K. A. (1997, June), To Arrive Where We Started And Know The Place For The First Time? Re Visioning Technical Communication Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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