Keywords

Written Communication, Pedagogy

Abstract

One of the biggest challenges for students in science and engineering is communicating technical information to a non-technical audience. Students may struggle because they are not adept writers, because they cannot divorce the ideas from the jargon, or because they simply don't understand the material well enough to explain it to someone else. To attempt to address this issue, this study proposes the use of children’s stories to help students practice writing for a target, non-technical audience. To measure the efficacy of this method, junior level engineering students in an electronics course in Fall 2018 were asked to write children’s stories to explain the operation of specific electrical devices. The students wrote one story at the beginning of the semester and another at the end of the semester. Using a written communication rubric, the stories were assessed by non-engineers (a biologist, a business person, and a physical therapist) to determine if the stories effectively explain the content to a non-technical audience. Without showing the rubric to the students, qualitative feedback was given on the first stories. By receiving this feedback, average review scores for the second story increased by 28.3%, indicating that the second story better communicated the material to the audience. With promising results, this study will be expanded to other areas of science and engineering.

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Writing Children’s Stories to Improve Engineering Student’s Communication with Non-Engineering Audiences

One of the biggest challenges for students in science and engineering is communicating technical information to a non-technical audience. Students may struggle because they are not adept writers, because they cannot divorce the ideas from the jargon, or because they simply don't understand the material well enough to explain it to someone else. To attempt to address this issue, this study proposes the use of children’s stories to help students practice writing for a target, non-technical audience. To measure the efficacy of this method, junior level engineering students in an electronics course in Fall 2018 were asked to write children’s stories to explain the operation of specific electrical devices. The students wrote one story at the beginning of the semester and another at the end of the semester. Using a written communication rubric, the stories were assessed by non-engineers (a biologist, a business person, and a physical therapist) to determine if the stories effectively explain the content to a non-technical audience. Without showing the rubric to the students, qualitative feedback was given on the first stories. By receiving this feedback, average review scores for the second story increased by 28.3%, indicating that the second story better communicated the material to the audience. With promising results, this study will be expanded to other areas of science and engineering.