Session F1E ENHANCING COMMUNICATION AND PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE SKILLS IN AN INTRODUCTORY ENGINEERING COURSE
Julia Pet-Armacost 1 , and Robert L. Armacost 2
Abstract – One of the major requirements of today’s employers is for their new hires to have excellent communication and professional skills. These skills include writing, speaking, listening, presenting, working in multidisciplinary teams, engaging in life-long learning, and exhibiting professional and ethical behavior. These skills have been clearly identified by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology as being essential for all engineering graduates, but tend to be very difficult to teach and embed in the curriculum. This paper describes how to structure an introductory course in the major that would help to teach communication and professional practice skills in the context of the student’s chosen major. The objectives of this course are to provide students with an exposure to the entire domain of the discipline in order to set the stage for the remaining curriculum, and to develop the students’ skills in, and awareness, sensitivity, and understanding of professional practice and communication skills. Index Terms – Communication skills, Introductory engineering course, Professional practice skills satisfaction, commitment to doing one’s best, listening skills, sharing information and cooperating with co-workers, team working skills, adapting to changing work environments, customer orientation and focus, and ethical decision making and behavior . At a large number of universities, communication skills are taught in isolated classes, separate from the rest of the engineering curriculum. Other schools have chosen a “writing across the discipline” approach, to partner with a writing center, or to use a writing consultant . As noted in a recent assessment of engineering writing at The University of Washington , the teaching that was being done in the stand-alone writing courses was not being transferred to other writing assignments. In addition, such communication courses often do not include instruction on the types of communication that are prevalent in industry today (e.g., email communication, memos, abstracts, executive summaries, and presentations). Regardless of the methods of instruction, the focus is typically on the development of individual writing skills, but not on group writing skills. Schultz and Ludlow  emphasize the importance of collaborative or group writing as a necessary skill for engineers and describe key elements of effective group writing. Within engineering courses, the desired communication and professional practice skills are generally not taught explicitly; however, students are expected to speak and write well and to display good professional behavior by the time they graduate. Students are often given assignments and projects where these skills are required and they may also be held accountable (e.g., graded) for doing them well, but it is unusual for lecture time in an engineering course to be devoted to communication and professional skill development. There is a need to make teaching of these skills more pervasive throughout the curriculum. It is important that communication and professional skills be introduced early and reinforced throughout the curriculum. One approach is to introduce the need for these skills in a Freshman engineering course, teach the skills in an introductory course to the particular engineering major, reinforce the skills throughout the major (e.g., adopt a standard writing text to be used by all faculty in their courses), and test the skills in the students’ senior year. The focus of this paper is on the design of an introductory course in the major that is intended to be taught
COMMUNICATION AND PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
Introductory engineering courses in many universities focus primarily on technical content and do not provide the connections necessary to put engineering in context within the entire curriculum . Both academia and industry have clearly identified the need for engineering students to learn more than just technical skills. In a 1996 report of The National Science Foundation , education is described to be more than just an acquisition of facts. A survey of 15 aerospace and defense companies  was used to help identify industry expectations of new graduates with respect to the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) Criteria 2000. It suggested, among other things, that graduates are expected to have the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams, have an ability to communicate effectively, have an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility, and recognize the need for life -long learning. More recently, a study supported through the National Science Foundation found that science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET) education programs need to include within their curriculum competencies such as customer expectations and
Julia Pet -Armacost, Information, Planning, and Assessment, University of Central Florida, 12424 Research Parkway, Suite 225, Orlando, Florida, 328263207, email@example.com 2 Robert L. Armacost, University Analysis and Planning Support, University of Central Florida, 12424 Research Parkway, Suite 488, Orlando, Florida, 32826-3207, firstname.lastname@example.org
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written homework assignments. The following topics have been identified for inclusion: • Life -long learning skills o Professional organizations and societies o Conducting library and internet research • Communication o Oral communication (informal and formal) o Presentations o Written communication (email. • Develop the students’ systems analysis and consulting skills. since operations in the university are both accessible and familiar to students. 2003. proposals. We describe how to structure an introductory course in the major that would help to teach communication and professional practice. describe some approaches to instruction. and then have several opportunities to experience that process and be given appropriate feedback.00 © 2003 IEEE November 5-8. or Electrical Engineering) as well as to teach students key elements of the engineering profession. • Develop the students’ professional and communication skills. Another important part of the systems analysis and consulting skills component of the course is to make students more aware of their environment and all of the places where their engineering discipline is being used or perhaps should be used. These objectives are achieved through a series of lectures. engineering student will succeed in the workplace. Boulder. Civil Engineering. In the following sections of this paper. provide details of the course content. cases. memos. readings. These skills are needed so that the
0-7803-7961-6/03/$17. reports) o Active listening • Ethics and professional behavior • Time and project management • Working in teams • Job search skills o Resumes and cover letters o Interviews Systems Analysis and Consulting Skills It is helpful to teach students the skills that they will need when working on engineering problems early in the curriculum. We do this by using the university as an example and also as a laboratory. letters. and • Increase the students’ awareness of the types of technical and professional skills that are needed in their discipline. provide a more detailed example of the course in Industrial Engineering. CO 33 rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference F1E-11
. Industrial Engineering. abstracts and summaries. Students need to learn how to approach problem solving and design.Session F1E
as a first course in the major in the sophomore or junior year. A detailed example of such a course taught in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems at the University of Central Florida is provided.
The introductory course is designed to expose students to the various engineering technical skills that they will need to develop during their entire program of study and to teach them some of the professional skills. The following topics are included as part of the systems analysis and consulting skills component: • Exploring the world around you and identifying the engineering opportunities • Planning and conducting a “systems analysis” o The “presenting problem” versus the “real problem” o Defining goals and objectives o Developing performance measures o Identifying alternatives o Evaluating alternatives o Taking action • Consulting skills • Developing contracts and proposals Discipline-specific Concepts and Tools The content of the discipline-specific concepts and tools component of the course will depend on the particular engineering discipline. we describe the objectives and philosophy of the course.. and describe our experiences and the challenges with teaching such as course. We have found that students can learn much about the appropriate steps to solving a problem and identifying and evaluating alternatives even without the specific technical skills of their engineering discipline. The key objectives of the introductory course are to: • Provide students with an exposure to the entire domain of their chosen engineering discipline. The content of the introductory course alternates among three general topic areas: • Professional development • Systems analysis and consulting skills • Discipline-specific concepts and tools The following provides a more detailed description of the content of each of the three topic areas: Professional Development The purpose of the professional development component of the course is to provide instruction on some of the nontechnical or non-discipline-specific skills required within the students’ profession. This component of the course is intended to provide the students with an exposure to all of
OBJECTIVES OF THE INTRODUCTORY ENGINEERING COURSE
The primary purpose of the introductory course in the major is to provide the student with an introduction and exposure to the fundamentals of the particular engineering discipline (e. and realworld projects.g. Mechanical Engineering.
Teaching communication skills is one of the more challenging assignments for an engineering faculty member. and learn to work in teams. develop interviewing and research skills. In general. the students should receive specific instruction and gain experience that will help them to develop skills in communication. The following topics illustrate what might be included in an introductory course in Industrial Engineering: • History of Industrial Engineering • Production System Design • Production System Control • Management • Total Quality Management • Productivity • Operations Research • Decision Sciences specifications. exciting. An instructor who is uncomfortable teaching communication may also wish to seek help from a Writing Center or use communication consultants from the Humanities.00 © 2003 IEEE November 5-8. As students begin to explore some of the problems with various university systems and are asked to try to come up with solutions. guest lectures from various faculty members who are focused in the particular topic areas of the discipline could also be used. hands-on. financial aid. communication skills can be taught in parallel with the consulting and problem solving skills. and motivating projects. maintenance. understand professional and ethical behavior. The course was originally designed to serve as a potential elective for students outside the discipline and as a required course for the IEMS students. grading papers for grammar and spelling does not constitute teaching engineering communication. Students need to be taught the appropriate content.g. and not boring. they quickly realize that they are missing some of the critical engineering skills that they need to really solve the problem. This is particularly important in introductory courses if one wishes to retain the student in the engineering discipline. admissions. A faculty member coordinated the course and various faculty members taught introductory lectures in the major areas of Industrial Engineering.g.
APPROACHES TO INSTRUCTION
Exposing students to the major topics in the discipline can be challenging. not too detailed. and the customer(s). students’ skills are developed to recognize engineering problems or opportunities. In this course. It is easy for students to relate to and understand university operations (e. The IEMS department determined that communication and several other non-technical skills were important
0-7803-7961-6/03/$17. If the instructor carefully chooses the problems to focus on. and defining performance measures. although many may be able to detect grammar and spelling errors. They also become very engaged in processes that affect them directly. An approach to teaching these skills is to first teach the students the basic steps to problem solving and design and then have them experience the process for an open-ended problem. It is difficult to identify an appropriate text for an introductory course that provides the complete breadth of the discipline at an appropriate level that is not too trivial. If a good introductory textbook cannot be identified. defining objectives and
A D ETAILED COURSE O UTLINE FOR INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING
The Industrial Engineering and Management Systems (IEMS) Department at the University of Central Florida has offered a two-credit hour course entitled “Introduction to Industrial Engineering and Management Systems” for the past six years. this approach can be used to motivate the entire curriculum for the given discipline. communicating with a client. engineering faculty are not experts in teaching communication. and motivational experience for the students. There are a number of existing textbooks in technical writing that can be used. During the course. We have used various operations and processes within the university to serve as examples of Industrial Engineering opportunities. CO 33 rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference F1E-12
. When first established. This type of linkage and engagement has been described as an “attached learning strategy ” and is an underlying philosophy of the introductory course that we have developed. Students must be able to see a clear linkage among all elements of the course content and be engaged in practical. We have found that the paperback book on technical writing by Finkelstein  works very well for this introductory course. and understand the types of technical and professional skills that are needed to address these problems. structure. In addition. 2003. since it only constitutes about half of the course content. and transportation) since they have experienced many of them first-hand.. identifying the real problem. However. At the same time as the students learn the steps. the environment.. Many of these consulting steps require written or oral communication. The text that is selected must be interesting and relatively short. special readings can be assigned to the student. the course had one primary purpose—expose the students to the discipline and to the IEMS faculty. Faculty members from engineering may find it difficult to teach some of these topics and will need to seek assistance. and grammar to use for various types of communications. the instructor can also present some of the key consulting skills that are necessary (e. Engineers need to develop systems analysis and design skills such as identifying the problem. It is important for the students to gain a systems perspective of engineering problems that includes considerations of the people affected by the system.Session F1E
the major parts of their engineering discipline and also to provide motivation for the rest of the courses that they will be taking. As a consequence. Boulder. An introductory exposure to the discipline must be a highly satisfying. computer services. parking. and developing a proposal and contract).
In Fall 2001. The purpose of the assignment is to test whether students can
0-7803-7961-6/03/$17.00 © 2003 IEEE November 5-8. volume. Also indicate the relevant e-mail or home page address. Part 2: Life -long Learning Lectures: • PD: Professional Organizations and Life -long Learning • PD: Self-diagnostic on grammar and spelling Assignment: Industrial Engineering Exploration. issue. or a combination. general readership. year. author(s). “title of paper. Categorize the journals and magazines as to whether the articles are primarily theoretical. Part 3: Describing Processes Lectures: • SA: Systems and processes • PD: Writing technical definitions and descriptions of mechanisms and processes • IE: Production systems design • PD: Writing memos and abstracts Assignment: Process Description. The student is asked to identify five student processes and five faculty processes at the university. Surveys of graduates. identify one article dealing with an industrial engineering problem of particular interest to you. Three textbooks were chosen to support the three areas. List the web site address for each organization and provide a brief overview of each organization. Faculty members in each of the courses in the major require students to use Finkelstein as a guide on all written assignments.Session F1E
learning outcomes for the program. pages) of each article. CO 33 rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference F1E-13
. Part A: Identify at least 15 journals and magazines that publish articles related to industrial engineering. Mid-term and final exams are also used to test students’ mastery within the three content areas Table I and described in the sections that follow. A paperback book by Hicks  was chosen as an introduction to the IE content. Create a typewritten report that includes a copy of the abstract.
Part 1: Introduction to Industrial Engineering Lectures: • IE: Introduction to Industrial Engineering and Management Systems • IE: History of Industrial Engineering • IE: Overview of the breadth of Industrial Engineering showing videotapes created by professional societies. Boulder. as well as some of the web resources. The newly designed course alternated lectures among the following three content areas: discipline-related content in Industrial Engineering (IE).. In addition. The Block book  is also used in the senior year to support the students’ senior design experience and the Finkelstein book  is a required text for all of the IEMS undergraduate courses. and the Systems Analysis and Design (SA) content. a brief statement indicating why you selected the article. application. and a full citation (i. and a textbook by Block  was used to teach students the SA content and consulting skills. the course was extensively revised to include instruction promoting the development of many of these skills. The written assignment is used to determine whether the student can follow written instructions and also as a diagnostic on grammar and spelling. Each part consists of several lectures coming from the three content areas followed by a major communication assignment that is designed to test both the technical knowledge and communication skills. alumni. Part B: From the journals and magazines surveyed. for each journal or magazine. the Professional Development (PD) content. The purpose of this assignment is to encourage the student to become familiar with some of the journals and magazines that publish information about Industrial Engineering. The purpose of this assignment is to provide students with exposure to university processes and to teach students the proper methods for documenting processes. While it would appear that these were a lot of textbooks to require in one course. The course is divided into eight major parts. • PD: Principles of proper email communication Assignment: What is Industrial Engineering? Students are required to send an email to the instructor giving a succinct description of Industrial Engineering. In addition. and employers indicated the importance of these skills and that our students needed to improve in these areas. TABLE I
Part 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 COURSE STRUCTURE AN D CONTENT AREAS Topic IE Intro to Industrial Engineering X Life-long learning Describing processes X Identifying IE opportunities X Feasibility reports X Proposals and contracts X Conducting a study X Presenting results X PD X X X X X X X SA X X X
make proper use of email and to test the student’s understanding of the Industrial Engineering discipline. the book by Finkelstein  was used to support the communication comp onent of the PD content. They are required to select one and develop a detailed process description as defined in Finkelstein. 2003. indicate whether it is published in electronic form and/or if abstracts are available in electronic form. industry mentors.e.” journal. the following questions should be addressed in your write-up: What was the author(s) major purpose in writing the article? How well did the author(s) convey this message? What was the major contribution of the article? Was the article easy to follow? Why or why not? Part C: Identify the websites for 5 professional organizations that are related to industrial engineering. two of the books were required in other courses in the major as well.
ethics. The counselors only make admissions decisions (and are also the only ones authorized to do this). cover letters. keying the application into a database. clerks. They are also required to write the memo in third person. Develop three different layouts (arrangements) for the office—process. Assume that your team will be the project management team and that the remaining teams would be project personnel available to conduct the study. This assignment also requires students to use group communication (writing) skills. Assume that you will have three weeks to complete the baseline study. Part 6: Proposals and Contracts Lectures: • IE: Production systems control • PD: Writing proposals • PD: Working in teams. They are asked to clearly justify why these are the top three and justify the rank ordering. Students are asked to identify the top three “problems” (in rank order) at the university that could provide potential opportunities for an Industrial Engineer. The instructor randomly assigns students into teams of size four to five. product. (ii) encourage students to actively observe and identify Industrial Engineering opportunities. computing the high school GPA.00 © 2003 IEEE November 5-8. The purposes of this assignment are to (i) provide students with practice in writing a “standard” memo. this exercise is designed to test whether the student understands the content and structure of a feasibility report. There are three general types of employees: file managers. The purpose of this assignment is to exercise the student’s creativity in facility layout and test understanding of the three basic types of layouts. CO 33 rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference F1E-14
Part 4: Identifying Industrial Engineering Opportunities Lectures: • IE: Production systems design • SA: Problem identification • PD: Writing standard memos and abstracts Assignment: Identifying IE Opportunities. The clerks can do all operations except for entering information into the student database and admissions decisions. primarily in the fall semester. The purpose of the assignment is for students to gain experience working in teams and to gain some initial experience in developing a proposal. and (iii) test whether students can present and support an “opinion” in a cogent manner. The file managers are the only ones who can enter information into the student database and they can do all other operations except for admissions decisions. The following scenario and instructions are used: The Admissions operation is a sequence of steps that is used to process student applications leading to the student notification of the admissions decision. making an admissions decision. Also address the following in your report: (a) What types of storage facilities are needed? (b) What types of materials handling issues are there? (c) What other information would you need to really do this design? (d) Which of the three designs do you think would be better and why? (e) What information do you think you would need in order to determine how many employees of each type you would need? The report should use the structure of a feasibility report (see page 99 in Finkelstein) for this assignment. and professionalism • PD: Resumes. The goal of the analysis is to obtain a clear picture of the current parking situation and the work that you propose should include the specific types of Industrial Engineering analyses that you would conduct in order to achieve this goal. The Admissions office receives approximately 10. and fixed location—and draw a “rough sketch” of each. The student responses to Part 4 are used to determine the focus of the study. In addition. Your teams are competing for a contract to conduct baseline study of the parking situation at the university for the Vice President of Administration and Finance. The purpose of the assignment is for the student to gain additional experience working in teams. Part 5: Feasibility Reports Lectures: • IE: Facilities design • PD: Writing reports Assignment: Feasibility Report. keying the admissions decision into a database. You should state explicitly the responsibility of each of the teams. “parking” was chosen as the area of focus. their remaining time is used to recruit new students. A simplified version of the process includes receipt of the application by mail. You should include resumes for each of you team members. In this example. filing and storing the application until all pieces are received. In the memo. and filing the documents until the Registrar’s office takes responsibility. An excerpt from the specific instructions follows. and counselors. and interviews Assignment: A Proposal to Conduct a Study. evaluating transfer credits and residency. Boulder. they must describe each problem and indicate why each is considered to be an opportunity for Industrial Engineers.000 applications in a year. Part 7: Conducting a Study Lectures: • SA: Defining goals and performance measures • SA: Identifying alternatives and enhancing creativity • SA: Collecting and analyzing data • IE: Production systems control Assignment: Conduct Study. 2003. They are asked to use the standard memo format to present and justify their opinions. and to gain some
and Technology. pp. The specific instructions are as follows: Presentations of the findings are conducted during the last two class periods. Susan. and 5. 1978. Teaching a course with major writing assignments is very labor intensive for the instructor. Vol. “Refocusing Our Efforts: Assessing Non-Technical Competency Gaps. Loughlin. Yokomoto. “Incorporating Group Writing Instruction in Engineering Courses.. 88. "A new 'Contact-Based' First Year Engineering Course. how to approach problem solving. L. and what is ethical and professional behavior. and Lamm. January 1999. 2003. NSF pp. Part 8: Presenting Results Lectures: • IE: Quality control • IE: Management and Total Quality Management • IE Operations Research • IE: Decision sciences and evaluating alternatives • PD: Giving presentations Assignment: Presentations The purpose of this assignment is for students to get practice in giving presentations. Boulder. “Industry Expectations of New Engineers: A Survey to Assist Curriculum Designers. Leo.” Journal of Engineering Education . Mohamed.” Journal of Engineerin g Education . analysis of institutional data about official and unofficial parking spaces. 227-232." Journal of Engineering Education.” Journal of Engineering Education. Vol.Session F1E
initial experience in collecting data and presenting results. Fla wless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used.. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Company. and McMasters. For example. Students who have taken the course are displaying better communication skills in each of their follow-on courses and appear to be better prepared when they begin their senior design project. pp. CO 33 rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference F1E-15
. July 2000. McVey. it may be possible to have two individuals grade each assignment. and conclusions. "Developing a Motivational Freshman Course in Using the Principle of Attached Learning". We have found that the inclusion of the introductory course in Industrial Engineering has enhanced the abilities of the students throughout their program of study. D.
 Porter. Nancy. D. E. Ronald. Boston: McGraw-Hill. and Humphreys. Vol. Carol. 1998. class enrollments at various times of the day. and project are specifically designed to help the students understand the reasons why they need to take particular courses in their major.00 © 2003 IEEE November 5-8. observations and photographs at student parking lots. No. K. 399-404. One of the major challenges is grading. Since each of the assignments has both a technical and communication focus. data from Institutional Research on enrollment projections. R. A. encouraged to allow the student to demonstrate that she or he has learned the material after reviewing the instructor’s comments. Charles.  Block. National Science Foundation (NSF). H. John. 3.” Journal of Engineering Education . Vol. 377-386. D. January 1999.
This paper has described and illustrated the components of an introductory engineering course in the major that is focused on exposing students to the dis cipline and on teaching students communication and professional skills. 1. ElSharkawy. A. Each of the assignments must be carefully graded with written comments in order for students to learn from their mistakes. Cruse. No. a survey/interview of students. Walker. Plumb. faculty.. Francis. research approach taken. Each student is required to participate in the presentation of the results of the study and is critiqued by class members and the instructor. F.. 87 No 4. July 2002. New York. Each study presentation must include a description of the purpose of the study. “Outcomes Assessment of Engineering Writing at the University of Washington. Vol.
0-7803-7961-6/03/$17.. No. James. Industrial Engineering and Management. Lang. 333-338. 2. 2000. 96-139. The Management team presents the introduction to the study (purpose and overall approach) on the first day and the overall conclusions from the study on the second day. No. Schulz. McGraw-Hill. The course materials. July 2000. Michael. Richard. Vol. 88 No 1. Jr. 99-106. The lectures and exercises are designed to teach students how to communicate. observations at faculty and staff lots and parking garages.. 4. assignments. 89. The study is accomplished by conducting five different studies including: 1. pp. Pocket Book of Technical Writing. 85. While there are many benefits to offering such a course. Mathematics. a Writing Center or writing consultant could be used to grade the communication aspect of the assignment and the engineering faculty member could focus his or her attention on the technical portion of the assignment. and staff. July 1996. there are also a number of challenges. pp. Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science.” Journal of Engineering Education. 89. 3. “Integrating Writing Instruction into Engineering Courses: A Writing Center Model. Vol.. Each study team presents its own results with Studies 1-3 presented on the first day and Studies 4-5 presented on the second day.. Philip. Ideally. Journal of Engineering Education.. pp. and Ludlow.. Maher. Kristin. October 1998. 3. Faculty members in engineering typically are not trained to teach or grade writing assignments. Carolyn and Scott. Kirk. 1996. 3.. Williams. Hugh. Finkelstein. A team of students is assigned to each of these studies and the management team selected from Part 7 is required to coordinate the teams and the results. Peter. 369-376. results.. and Fuller. No. 43-51. L.. pp. Engineering. 91. The students are asked to develop a clearer picture of the parking situation at the university. P. resubmissions of the written assignments would be
 Hicks. Douglas. Meier. Cathie. pp. 3. Rizkalla.. Michael.