Asee peer logo

Understanding Curricular Approaches to Communication as a Global Competency: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Teaching and Learning of Communication

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication and Literacy

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1621.1 - 26.1621.11



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Christina Kay White Massachusetts Institute of Technology

visit author page

Dr. Christina White is currently a postdoctoral engineering education research associate with Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Innovation Centre. She completed her Doctoral degree from Teachers College, Columbia University where she studied engineering education. She is the founding director of the National Academy of Engineering Longhorn Grand Challenges Scholars & K12 Partners Program at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. White is also the director of an outreach program called Design, Technology, & Engineering for All Children (DTEACh) which has reached more than 1000 teachers and 85,000 students. She is the lead inventor on a patent for assistive technology. Her current research includes global competencies, innovative design-based pedagogy, humanitarian engineering, and ways to attract and retain traditionally underrepresented groups in engineering education.

visit author page

author page

Lori Breslow Massachusetts Institute of Technology

author page

Daniel E. Hastings Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Download Paper |


Understanding Curricular Approaches to Communication as a Global Competency: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Teaching and Learning of CommunicationINTRODUCTION:As society grows more global and interconnected, the challenges that must be addressed by thenext generation of engineers are becoming more complex [1-2]. Engineering education is calledupon to foster the development of 21st century skills, in addition to teaching deep technicalexpertise, both of which are needed to lead companies and help communities [3-4]. Reportshighlight how crucial communication skills are for engineers [3-8]. This study explores fourspecific communication capabilities: writing, developing and delivering presentations, visualliteracy, and participating in teams.RESEARCH QUESTIONS:It is our hypothesis that within different curricular approaches, students and faculty would have avariety of experiences with teaching and learning communication skills. The two specificcurricula approaches we explore are: (1) analysis-centric and (2) design-centric. We furtherhypothesize that these curricular approaches have a differential impact on the value faculty andstudents place on communication, the faculty’s ability to teach communication, and students’self-efficacy for communication skills.Therefore, given the call to address these 21st century global competencies, includingcommunication, in engineering, and the need to study how universities are heeding that call, ourresearch questions are:1. What is the nature and frequency of the opportunities students are given within two different curriculum approaches (analysis-centric and design-centric) to improve the communication skills identified above?2. In what ways do the differences between those curricular approaches impact: a. The value students place on opportunities to learn communication skills, and the value they place on communication assignments? b. Students’ self-efficacy for and confidence in their communication skills? c. Student’s communication skills upon graduation? d. The value faculty place on time spent in their courses helping students learn communication skills? e. The faculty’s perceived ability to teach communication skills, including giving students’ feedback?METHODOLOGY:We test our hypotheses in engineering programs at four universities around the world. Each ofthe programs has taken one or the other of the curricular approaches identified above. We usefive different data collection techniques: (1) an inventory of the types and frequency ofcommunication experiences and assignments; (2) student surveys to measure self-efficacy forcommunication with results from a survey administered at the beginning of the students’ courseof study compared to results from a survey of seniors; (3) a faculty survey to gauge theirconfidence in their abilities to teach communication skills and the value they place oncommunication; (4) student and faculty focus groups to complement the surveys; and (5)classroom observations. This paper reports on the progress of the study and preliminary findingsof the student surveys.RESULTS:We analyze the data from the first student survey to indicate the level of self-efficacy forcommunication skills between curricular approaches, as well as between genders and cultures.We include quantitative and qualitative results to support the trends identified. This researchprovides insight into current educational practices that are addressing the goals in seminal reportslike The Engineer of 2020 [2]. It provides an opportunity for engineering faculty acrossinstitutions and internationally to compare effective pedagogical practices and ways ofmeasuring learning for 21st century skills [3-8].REFERENCES: [1] ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission. (2005). Criteria for accrediting engineering programs. Baltimore, MD: ABET, Inc. [2] National Academy of Engineering. (2004-2005). The engineer of 2020: Visions of engineering in the new century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. [3] Sageev, P. & Romanowski, C. (2001). A message from recent graduates in the workplace: Results of a survey on technical communication skills. Journal of Engineering Education, 90(4), 685-693. [4] Williams, J. (2002). The engineering portfolio: Communication, reflection, and student learning outcomes assessment. International Journal of Engineering Education, 18 (2), 199–207. [5] Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: towards a unifying theory of behavioral change. American Psychologist, 33, 344-358. [6] Boiarsky, C. (2004). Teaching engineering students to communicate effectively: A metacognitive approach. International Journal of Engineering Education, 20 (2), 251–60. [7] Davis, D. & Beyerlein, S. (2005). Development and use of an engineer profile. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education. [8] Kaewpet, C. & Sukamolson, S. (2011). A sociolinguistic approach to oral and written communication for engineering students. Asian Social Science, 7(10).

White, C. K., & Breslow, L., & Hastings, D. E. (2015, June), Understanding Curricular Approaches to Communication as a Global Competency: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Teaching and Learning of Communication Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24957

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015