Re-engineering engineering communication

The new hybrid course for WR 327e (Technical Writing for Engineering Students) will be an adaptation my current f2f sections. The existing curriculum is already kind of cool: Students work individually and collaboratively as “Engineering consultants” for 9 weeks, designing OMSI-style interactive exhibits in response to a (fictional) RFP from the OSU College of Engineering (CoE).

The Scenario
In this “real-world” scenario, the CoE has requested proposals for permanent exhibits designed to answer the question “What Do Engineers Do?” for visitors to new and existing buildings within the college. In the process of creating their proposals, students complete four formal writing and communication assignments:

1. They write definitions of engineering concepts for a technical audience (CoE decision makers) and a non-technical audience (exhibit visitors).
2. They write a process description and procedural document. The process description introduces stakeholders to individual exhibit designs, interactive components, and exhibit learning outcomes. The procedural document provides visitors with step-by-step instructions for interacting with the engineering exhibits.
3. They design and deliver professional-quality, image-based team presentations that introduce the exhibits to CoE decision makers.
4. They produce a final formal proposal that synthesizes the team’s individual writing assignments from the term into a single, cohesive, and persuasive document.

In addition to these four formal assignments, students complete other coursework that provides opportunities to practice skills in collaboration, professionalism, project organization, problem solving, and peer evaluation.

I like the curriculum for the f2f course (I’ve learned a lot of cool stuff about engineering!), and students say they really enjoy the creative components and the collaborative work (aka social networking 🙂 ). So I plan to keep the “real-world” scenario and assignments in the new hybrid course. But I’ll have to make substantial changes to the structure to fit a hybrid schedule–and I’m very excited about the potential learning outcomes of those changes!

F2F Structure: The Way It Is Now
My current f2f WR 327e course is delivered in a Tuesday-lecture-and-new-information/Thursday-skills-application-in-the-lab format: I deliver new content via lecture, presentations, and videos during one session per week, and students work collaboratively (in teams and with me) on classroom computers during the other class session. Homework consists of online team collaboration, readings, and writing tasks.

The results produced by this format are pretty solid: students learn new skills and write better papers. But there’s no ignoring the fact that most students find lectures boring and hard to follow. In fact, the human brain isn’t even designed to effectively absorb and retain new information delivered in a long-lecture format. So the move away from long-winded monologues can only be a good thing for students (and for me).

Hybrid Structure: The New Way
The hybrid course by definition requires a very different kind of structure for content delivery, and that structure provides a number of benefits. For example, students can pace their learning to meet their individual needs. And the College of Engineering only needs to schedule one computer lab to accommodate two WR 327e sections. But, to me, the most exciting benefit of the course redesign is this: I get to eliminate potentially (or inevitably?) boring and forgettable in-class lectures that put a damper on my students’ (and my) day. And I get to replace those lectures with narrated interactive presentations, links to professional engineering documents for student analysis, and great videos (like this Ted Talk on Body Language by Amy Cuddy)–all delivered online. Reading quizzes and class discussions of writing principles will also take place remotely, ensuring that weekly lab sessions are freed up for f2f collaboration, assignment clarifications, and 1-on-1 instructor/student interactions.

In a nutshell, here is my vision for the hybrid WR 327e course: Multi-media, image-focused, and interactive online materials combined with instructor/student/peer collaboration and application in the lab will actively engage students in their own learning experience. And I’ll be a step closer to achieving my own secret goal: to finally convince students that engineering communication is important, achievable, and yes– even a little bit cool!

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One Response to Re-engineering engineering communication

  1. Cub Kahn says:

    Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for your planned hybrid approach to WR327e! One of the big challenges of redesigning a classroom course as a hybrid is deciding how to best use the remaining in-class time; that doesn’t appear to be a problem at all here. I look forward to hearing how your students respond to the blended version of this course.

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