(457a) Practicing the ABCs of Technical Communication Using Realistic Problems and Homework Memos

Authors: 
Ong, R., Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center
Practicing solving problems through homework is an important aspect of building students’ technical skill set. However, the format of these problems and the way they are reported do not generally align with the way problems are framed or reported on outside of the classroom. I have recently instituted a new type of homework problem where students are assigned realistic problems and instead of only turning in the handwritten or spreadsheet calculations, they must also submit a short memo reporting on their work in the context of a fictional company. While the memo format is not necessary, these style assignments give students practice with the ABCs of technical communication: Accuracy, Brevity, and Clarity. Through these memos, students learn to identify the key concepts and results from their work, communicate information concisely, and manipulate and present data in a manner that is accurate and intelligible. I will demonstrate example assignments from two classes: an elective on alternative energy and a core class on chemical engineering and the environment. In the alternative energy class, where some students had minimal technical writing experience, there was an observable improvement in written communication skills over the six memo assignments given that semester.