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Using Multi Disciplinary Teams To Teach Communication To Engineers, Or "Practicing What We Preach"

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.698.1 - 5.698.8



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Paper Authors

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John C. Anderson

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David Kelso

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Charles Yarnoff

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Barbara Shwom

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Penny Hirsch

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

Session 2461

Using Multi-Disciplinary Teams to Teach Communication to Engineers, Or "Practicing What We Preach"

B. Shwom, P. Hirsch, J. Anderson, C. Yarnoff & D. Kelso Northwestern University


Many new engineering courses tell students how important it is to write clear reports and proposals, deliver polished oral presentations, communicate effectively with clients, and work well on multi-disciplinary teams. This paper suggests one model for accomplishing these objectives: a design and communication course for engineering freshmen based on a cross- disciplinary approach and taught by multi-disciplinary teams. This paper will summarize the intellectual and practical similarities between design and communication that form the basis of our collaboration, explain how our cross-school course is administered and taught, discuss how we are evaluating student progress, and outline the benefits of teaching design and communication in this multi-disciplinary way. We argue that this team model strengthens the theoretical underpinnings of our course while improving learning outcomes in both communication and design.


Over the past several years, as part of the new national focus on outcomes by engineering educators, industry mentors, and ABET evaluators, communication skills and teamwork have become a much more prominent part of the engineering curriculum.1-2 It is the rare new course, particularly in engineering design or in introductory engineering courses, that doesn’t strive to help students develop more of the communication competencies they will need in industry, that is, to communicate effectively with team members and clients, write clear reports and proposals, and deliver polished oral presentations. To help students acquire these skills, more and more engineering educators are exploring ways to integrate communication instruction throughout the engineering curriculum instead of sending students to stand-alone courses in English and speech, where the instruction has nothing to do with engineering and thus leaves the students responsible for learning how to apply their newly acquired knowledge to engineering.3-8 In contrast, an integrated approach to communication instruction has the potential to show students that engineers value—and depend on—effective communication, just as team projects give students valuable experience in the teamwork skills they are likely to need in the workplace.

But integrating instruction in teamwork and communication into engineering courses isn’t easy, especially when engineering faculty already have overcrowded syllabi and have little idea how to teach teamwork and communication—even if they are convinced of the importance of these topics. Moreover, teaching communication usually requires assigning and grading more papers, a burdensome task that many engineering faculty prefer to avoid.

Anderson, J. C., & Kelso, D., & Yarnoff, C., & Shwom, B., & Hirsch, P. (2000, June), Using Multi Disciplinary Teams To Teach Communication To Engineers, Or "Practicing What We Preach" Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8815

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