The ability to effectively communicate is an essential skill for engineers. This skillset is necessary in order to complete projects, increase workplace productivity, and perform on high-functioning engineering teams. Communication skills are also a large factor when considering engineers’ career advancement. Surveys of engineers and engineering managers rank communication skills higher than the ability to design a product, system, or process (Harichandran et al., 2014), further demonstrating its importance in the professional world. While training in communication skills exists within most engineering curricula, a better understanding of the effects of varying models of communication training for undergraduate engineers is needed to facilitate optimization of approaches to communication training. Subsequently, this will better prepare students for their professional engineering careers.
Chemical engineering educators have long recognized the need to educate students in written, oral, and interpersonal communication, and technical communication training has manifested in primarily two different forms. Some university departments have provided supplemental communication training across multiple technical courses in the curriculum. Others have created courses dedicated to teaching Technical Communications (TC) to students. 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. Thus, it is extremely difficult to provide the same level of instruction, feedback, and opportunity for growth as communicators in an integrated course model compared to a dedicated course. However, dedicated TC courses can at times lack technical realism and pragmatic training. A department’s choice to offer TC training through an integrated model may stem from insufficient resources or lack of flexibility in the curriculum. While there are many reasons to believe a dedicated TC course is beneficial, discipline-specific comparison studies on this are lacking. Ultimately, our team seeks to evaluate the potential benefits of dedicated technical communication training for chemical engineers as a basis for better understanding TC training as a whole.
In this study, we report on the communication skills of students in a chemical engineering laboratory course at a large Pacific Southwest institution. Specifically, we compare the communication proficiency of students that have taken a dedicated TC prerequisite to students that have not. Recent elimination of this dedicated TC prerequisite from the curriculum have provided this unique opportunity to compare these populations through elimination of the intervention. Our period of study includes three semesters of students who have taken the TC prerequisite and two semesters of transition, where some of the students have had the TC prerequisite and others have not. Using student scores on written and oral assignments(as given by the course instructor) as our measure of communication quality, we report our findings in comparing the quality of communication between the two groups of students. Based on these results we hope to better understand the effects of Technical Communication training for undergraduates. With a better understanding of TC training our team aims to eventually develop optimal TC training methods to better prepare undergraduate students for their professional engineering careers.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.