Lifelong Learning in an Engineering Communications Course
Good communication skills increase in importance over an engineer’s lifetime, from student to retirement; they are the basis for grades in all courses to promoting the profession as well as promoting an engineer’s company. ABET and CEAB accreditation standards recognize the importance of, and the need for, good communication skills and have accepted that learning over a lifetime should never stop. ABET standard 3i and CEAB’s 3.1.12 state this need. The communication and lifelong learning standards parallel the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) standards for information literacy as well as encompassing Kuhlthau’s six stages in an information search process. We have incorporated these standards into the information literacy rubrics for a second-year communication course, Engineering Communication 2040.
The Engineering Communication is a team-based course that challenges students to research, write and illustrate a significant research project on an Engineering topic. As members of a team, students must learn the critical skills of project management conflict resolution and effective group interactions. Now added to these skills is the need for lifelong learning for, in order to fulfill these demands, we have integrated information literacy into the course; specifically, by having the engineering librarian offer four lectures on researching a topic, avoiding plagiarizing, citing sources and navigating the databases. She also assesses their search strategies, bibliographies and evaluates the quality of the sources while the communications professor evaluates the quality of the content and the writing of the report itself and the annotations. Each of these is integral to the other. We likewise have introduced reflective learning practices into some of the assignments and these, too, are evaluated.
The half-life of engineering information and, by extension, an engineer’s degree, is between 2.5-5 years, so, even before graduating, students need the drive to keep learning. So, because the professional engineering organizations make communication and lifelong learning opportunities a strong part of their mandate,
we are able to awaken the students’ desire to keep on learning by introducing them to practicing engineers who introduce ways to keep current in their careers; by instantiating reflective learning into the course; and by promoting the critical importance of lifelong learning in their professional lives.
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