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