It has become almost a cliché that engineers, (and by association engineering students) don’t, won’t, can’t write. In order to redress this gap, there have been many excellent (and some successful) attempts in recent decades to develop the writing of engineering students, both in Australian universities and elsewhere. Yet the problem remains unresolved, with employer groups, Engineers Australia and engineering faculties recognising that engineering students are still graduating with less than adequate written or spoken communication skills. This study focuses on potential inhibitors of the development of writing practices in the engineering curriculum.
PURPOSE OR GOAL
This study investigates factors that inhibit writing in the engineering curriculum at the level of engineering academics, as it is often they who determine what, how or if writing practices are developed in the engineering subjects they teach. The purpose of this research is to identify and subsequently make visible any gaps and contradictions in writing practices in the engineering curriculum, so that engineering academics and curriculum designers can then see how they may address these gaps.
The study uses discourse of writing as a social practice to focus on interactions between individuals, writing practices and the engineering curriculum, by interviewing engineering academics and by examining the writing practices of engineering academics and students. These data are currently being analysed to see what tensions and contradictions emerge.
ACTUAL OR ANTICIPATED OUTCOMES
Preliminary results have exposed tensions between how engineers see their students’ writing practices and how they model their own practices for their students. There are also divergent views about writing as a practice or as a product.
From the preliminary results, conclusions can be drawn about whether engineering academics can see writing practices as part of engineering practice, and the extent to which their perspectives are influenced by prior experience. The knowledge of varying levels of awareness could then be used to assist in ensuring that writing practices have a more central position in the engineering curriculum than is currently the case. This in turn should develop engineering graduates who are better prepared for the writing practices of engineering.
Engineering curriculum; writing practices; discourse of writing as a social practice