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Visual Communication Learning Through Peer Design Critiques: Engineering Communication Across Divisions

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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 Across the Divisions I: Communication in Engineering Disciplines

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1707.1 - 26.1707.13



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Paper Authors


Alyssa Catherine Taylor University of Washington

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Alyssa C. Taylor is a lecturer in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington. She received a B.S. in biological systems engineering at the University of California, Davis, and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia. Taylor’s teaching activities are focused on developing and teaching core introductory courses and technical labs for bioengineering undergraduates, as well as coordinating the capstone design sequence for the BIOE Department at the University of Washington. Taylor currently pursues educational research and continuous improvement activities, with the ultimate goal of optimizing bioengineering curriculum design and student learning outcomes.

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Stephanie Pulford Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching (CELT) Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Stephanie Pulford is an instructional consultant within University of Washington’s Center for Engineering Teaching & Learning, where she coordinates the Engineering Writing & Communication Development Program. Dr. Pulford’s professional background in engineering includes a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering as well as industry experience as an aircraft engineer. Her research and professional interests include faculty development, innovations in engineering communication education, engineering student learning motivation, and narrative structure in technical communication.

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Visual Communication Learning through Peer Design Critiques: Engineering Communication Across Divisions Engineering communication by necessity concerns visual communication. As educators, we hopeto instill students with a sense that good visual communication must be thoughtfully designed tohelp readers make meaning of data. Such visual design for readers requires our students tobecome metacognitive of their own experience as consumers of visual communication. Yet oftenengineering students are not prompted to think about or design visual data communication untilthey must present their own data, typically as part of a senior capstone project. Our students’ lackof experience leaves them without a solid foundation for critical thought about figures, and thusscant preparation to learn from the experience of creating and refining them. If capstones are tobe an opportunity to learn about visual communication rather than simply perform it, students arein need of a swift means to gain perspective on user interactions with figures, starting with theirown.Highly subjective fields such as fine art and graphic design have long had an answer to this needto learn within open-ended yet user-centric visual modes of communication: the group critique,or simply, the “crit”. Though details vary, the “crit” is often a group or class activity wherein onestudent artist presents his or her work and briefly introduces it; the others articulate and discusstheir opinions and viewer experience. Thus the “crit”, if facilitated constructively, provides ameaningful active and social learning opportunity for both the presenter (who gains userexperience data about his or her design) and the critiquers (who develop their aestheticawareness and articulation by reflecting and communicating their experience viewing thedesign).We adapted the concept of the “crit” to a workshop within a bioengineering capstone course inorder to help students to sharpen their awareness of reader experience of figure design, andempower them to improve their own visual communication within their capstone reports. In ourworkshop, students were first guided to articulate opinions and critiques of a series of publishedfigures. Visual design principles (drawn from aesthetics, data visualization design, and our ownreactions to readings of previous capstones) were contextualized within the students’ reactions.The students then broke into small groups in order to apply the newly-uncovered principles in aconstructive critique of each other’s figures. The group reconvened to share interestingobservations with the whole class.We assessed the workshop both by soliciting student feedback through a survey and byevaluating and comparing figures from a sample of student participant capstones to a controlsample from the previous year. We found that students were positively disposed toward theworkshop and found it useful, which matched our qualitative observations in class. We alsofound that completing the workshop was correlated with a reduction in unnecessary filler figures,as well as an improvement in figure professionality and visual storytelling.

Taylor, A. C., & Pulford, S. (2015, June), Visual Communication Learning Through Peer Design Critiques: Engineering Communication Across Divisions Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25043

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