(466a) Development and Implementation of a Technical and Professional Communication Course for Chemical Engineers

Authors: 
Miskioglu, E., The Ohio State University
Wood, D. W., The Ohio State University

Communication is an inherent component of any career path. For engineers, the ability to communicate technical information to a variety of audiences is critical, but underemphasized in many programs. In many United States institutions, engineering students are required, or given the option, to take a technical communication course early in their curriculum. While this course often provides the necessary base for successful technical communication, in most cases it is taught by someone from an English/communication discipline, and the course content is not integrated into the rest of the curriculum nor applied in an engineering specific context. While technical courses may incorporate writing into their course design through short answer responses or lab reports, evaluation of these materials focus on technical content as opposed to presentation. It is, however, clear and engaging presentation that can set the young engineer apart from others in their career after graduation. For this reason, we have developed a pilot course, Technical and Professional Communication for Chemical Engineers at The Ohio State University, offered for the first time in the Spring 2014 semester. This course is a technical elective that builds upon the required English/communication courses and covers technical and professional communication in a discipline-specific context. The course focuses on personal development of communication skills through a variety of writing exercises, reports, presentations (oral and poster), and development of professional materials (e.g., resume, cover letter, executive summaries). Emphasis of the course is on analyzing the audience and evaluating the purpose of communication in order to choose appropriate content and format.  The course structure is mixed-format, combining short lectures with activities that provide opportunities for immediate practice. Focus is on inductive learning, allowing students to experience communication and professionalism principles firsthand. Because the nature of the subject matter makes it highly likely that students will enter the course with strongly developed schemata for many topics, inductive learning allows them to begin developing and adjusting their existing schemata based on their own conclusions. We believe this method is more effective in creating long-term impact on the students’ communication and professional skills, as well as exposes them to techniques that reinforce life-long learning. While originally listed as a one-time offering, the course is slated to be offered again in Spring 2015 and we hope to make it an established component of our department and/or the college. Student feedback from the pilot offering indicates that there is a great deal of value for the students in this course. There continues to be a perception of engineers being poor communicators, and recognition that young engineers are in need of further developed communication skills. We believe this course is the beginning to developing a curriculum that better integrates an emphasis on technical and professional communication for engineers, a topic that continues to grow in importance as our means of communication evolve.