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Development of Integrated Technical Communication in a Mechanics of Materials Laboratory Course
The development of discipline-specific writing skills is important for students of all majors, but each field of study has its challenges. In engineering, there is a frequently a student expectation that calculations and drawings are the primary output of their work. That expectation is, however, incorrect. Effective communication – written – in addition to graphical is crucial for the practice of engineering. Laboratory classes provide excellent opportunities for students to apply technical skills covered in engineering lecture classes, but also provide the opportunity to apply written communication skills covered in English classes.
To improve the technical writing skills of engineering students, the Departments of # at # University have begun to have select engineering classes to be co-taught by engineering and technical writing instructors. The courses either include engineering content or have stand-alone co-requisite engineering classes. Writing instruction content, including lectures and writing assignments have been added to the course. The laboratory reports and design reports are assessed by both the engineering faculty member and the technical writing instructor.
The Mechanics of Materials Laboratory class has been co-taught by instructors from both disciplines three times. After the first time, the engineering and technical writing instructors identified several lessons-learned and places for improvement. During the second offering, new lecture content and handouts were developed. For the third offering, the lecture content and handouts were revised. Based on the assessment done after each of these courses, the quality of the students’ reports has improved for each offering and the time required for the students to write the reports has decreased with each offering.
Thus far, the three items that have had the largest impact are the development of a report template, the development of a Microsoft Excel primer, and the requirement for students to revise the report prior to the final submission. Future work for this class includes further refinement of the lecture material and handouts. Future work also includes addressing student attitudes towards the importance of writing. The real measure of success will be when the students graduate and work as engineers, demonstrating not only excellence in engineering, but in the technical writing that supports it.