UNDERGRADUATE WRITING ASSIGNMENTS IN ENGINEERING: TARGETING COMMUNICATION SKILLS (Attribute 7)

Anne Parker, Kathryn Marcynuk

Abstract


This paper will report on some of our findings from a national study investigating the writing demands placed on students in various disciplines,   including   Engineering.   This  is  a  timely study given that Reave notes that a “well-­‐designed program  [in  Engineering]  will  include  a  solid foundation  in  communication  skills,”  something  she says also requires high quality feedback. For our part of the study, we investigated which courses in our Engineering school target Attribute 7 (A7, Communication Skills) and then analyzed the course syllabi to determine whether they required written assignments. We then described these assignments according to 20 variables, such as the total number of assignments  written per year, feedback provided and genre.

Ever   since   the   accreditation   board introduced them, the graduate attributes and their assessment  have  become  the  focus  of  most Engineering   schools,   so  much  so  that  Engineering course syllabi will necessarily include both a series of course outcomes and a complex chart of the expected competency levels. However, information on the assignments themselves can be far less detailed. Consequently,     our    findings    tend    to    be    more suggestive than definitive, though certain trends do stand out. For example, while many writing scholars, such as Paretti and Reave, would argue that students should   learn   the  various   discipline-­‐specific   writing genres  and  then  be  able  to  shape  their  material  to satisfy the specific rhetorical demands, many course syllabi in our study simply listed “assignments”  rather than  specifying  the  kind  of  assignment:  Civil Engineering listed 16 “assignments” of 33 (total) and Mechanical Engineering 47 of 105.

Finally,  even  though  this  paucity  of  detail may  reflect  what  Broadhead  calls  the  general “paucity of requirements for writing instruction” in an Engineering  school,  one of the goals  of the national study   was   to   initiate   discussions   about   the   way writing     is    taught     and     supported     within     the departments   of   the   schools   involved.   Our   study’s findings,   suggestive   as   they   are,   may   be   able   to initiate that discussion.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24908/pceea.v0i0.6524