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Finding the Balance: A Technical Writing Assignment During a Co-op Work Experience
The mandatory three semester co-op work experience in the engineering programs at _____ University allows students to apply their education to real engineering situations. As part of the regular assessment of the co-op work experiences, site visits are held between faculty, students, and the employers. It has very often been noted by employer supervisors that students perform well technically but still lack polish communicating in a professional setting. To address this, a project was launched to incorporate online writing instruction as academic content associated with the Co-op II semester, with a technical proposal writing assignment as the major product.
Finding balance has been a recurring challenge throughout this curriculum design project. For students, best value lies not only in practice of written and oral communication skills, but also in completing one of two university-required courses carrying a Supplemental Writing Skills (SWS) designation. Thus, the curricular design meets the requirements for SWS designation. Further, an intentional integration of the writing assignments with each student’s co-op semester work experience is also highly desirable.
After the pilot rollout of the technical proposal writing assignment, employers asked additionally for practice in oral presentation in a business setting as well as writing skills. For purposes of proprietary confidentiality, students have been required to review each assignment draft with their employer prior to sharing for peer critiques. Setting these reviews up as oral presentations of their proposed projects was incorporated as a component to the overall technical communication content.
School of Engineering faculty share in the load of remotely advising and mentoring students on co-op terms, including managing academic content delivered online. The design of the technical writing curriculum to be delivered during Co-op II semesters required creation of fully online processes for delivering writing instruction, conducting peer and instructor reviews, and offering formative and summative feedback. With no face-to-face meetings class during the semester, attention had to be paid to best practices for online instruction. The logistics of the coordination of all students, faculty, and employers has been a substantial balancing act in itself.
Initially it was intended that online writing instruction and student work would touch only lightly on employer supervisors, and require little active participation in the academic component of the students’ experience during Co-op II. Over several years, the awareness and engagement of the supervisors has become somewhat more active and collaborative. This collaborative effort between the _____ School of Engineering and industry partners is providing an opportunity for students to develop written and oral communication skills within the context of their discipline. It also allows for students to identify a project that they could undertake in their final co-op semester, giving them a greater voice in their co-op experience. In some cases, a project proposed may be of larger scope than could be undertaken by one student during a co-op semester, and an employer is able to use such proposals as an opportunity to sponsor a senior project team to work with the co-op student to complete the project.