Incorporating Technical Communication Instruction into STEM Courses
We all recognize the importance of communication skills in today’s fast-paced, diverse business culture. Still, a common concern for faculty is how to incorporate writing and presentation opportunities into courses without pushing out other content.
In our department, we’ve worked on this issue for many years. Like every other ABET-accredited engineering program, we began with the basics: lab courses, where students write reports, and a capstone design course, where part of the final deliverable is a report and presentation. But we knew we could do more to prepare students for the complex communication tasks they would experience in research and industry.
We designed a program using Writing in the Disciplines theory—a branch of the Writing Across the Curriculum movement. Rather than adding more assignments, we studied our existing curriculum to find where assignments could be modified to incorporate communication elements. For example:
- replacing a mid-term exam with a presentation.
- substituting quizzes with short writing assignments that asks students to reflect on course content.
When we decided to revamp our curriculum, we developed "practice" courses that involve even more hands-on experience in engineering and communication.
We aim to encourage:
- critical thinking,
- making connections between different courses, and
- understanding the needs of different audiences.
To accomplish these goals, we used a plethora of resources—some of which are listed below.
- A TA’s Guide to Teaching Writing in All Disciplines by Beth Finch Hedengren
- Assigning, Responding, Evaluating: A Writing Teacher’s Guide by Edward M. White
- Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John C. Bean
- Programs That Work: Models and Methods for Writing Across the Curriculum, edited by Toby Fulwiler and Art Young
- Responding to Student Writers by Nancy Sommers
- Student Writing in the Quantitative Disciplines: A Guide for College Faculty by Patrick Bahls
- The Elements of Teaching Writing: A Resource for Instructors in All Disciplines by Katherine Gottschalk and Keith Hjortshoj
- Writing Across the Disciplines: Research into Practice, edited by Art Young and Toby Fulwiler Websites