(479f) Technical Communications Emphasis in Senior Chemical Engineering Laboratory Course | AIChE

(479f) Technical Communications Emphasis in Senior Chemical Engineering Laboratory Course


Ciston, S., University of California, Berkeley
Recent changes in our department’s chemical engineering curriculum have provided a natural opportunity to investigate the question: Can technical communication instruction be successfully integrated into an existing technical course?

For several years, a technical communications course was a required prerequisite to the senior laboratory course in chemical engineering; the technical communications course was recently cut from the curriculum due to budget pressures, providing an incentive to integrate technical communication instruction into the laboratory course. Many, if not most, institutions experience similar constraints that make it impractical to offer a dedicated technical communications course. By necessity, technical courses that have a strong communication emphasis prioritize the instruction and mastery of technical content, whereas dedicated courses offer an opportunity to focus deeply on communication content.

We evaluate the process, now underway for a third semester, of integrating technical communication instruction into the capstone laboratory course. Our first steps have been 1) to create detailed student rubrics for written and oral presentations that reflect key attributes of successful communications and 2) to bring technical communication content to weekly interactive lectures, with attention given to expectations on the course deliverables: written and oral lab reports. Some topics we have covered include: consideration of audience, purpose, and context, technical communication as logic, writing with concision, creating effective slides, and presenting with consideration to voice modulation and body language. In addition, our lectures have covered professionalism, safety, and ethics.