Published on November 27, 2012

Teaching communication to engineers looks a lot like conducting an orchestra.

On Monday, November 26th, we started a new academic term here at Rose-Hulman, my home institution. That means I met with students in the two sections of the Technical and Professional Communication course that I will teach this quarter.  When I introduce the course, I like to tell students that I have been teaching a version of “Tech Comm” for 18 years.  I don’t share this personal fact to scare them, as in “Hey, I’ve been teaching this course for 18 years, I know everything about being a writing and speaking engineer, so don’t give me any of your sass!”  No, I like to tell students this so they know that I am dedicated to one project during the next ten weeks of the term:  to help them improve their writing and speaking.

The focus of the course and my single-mindedness in teaching it make this one of my favorites.  Unlike the literature electives I teach, Tech Comm is absolutely practical, immediately applicable to many aspects of a student’s life (team projects, romantic relationships, job searches), and consequently memorable, if the number of alumni I talk to about communication is any indication.  While they are students, they may not see exactly how important communication will be to them professionally, but as alumni, they definitely get the message.

When I teach writing to engineers, I find that they often make a sorry mess of it.  I read sentences that don’t make sense and paragraphs that are incoherent, but reading bad writing doesn’t bother me.   Now, if I had to teach students to play an instrument, or if I had to listen to them singing badly, I’m sure I would have to quit. Don’t ask me why this is, it just is.

So I’ll be posting from time to time about my students and their work in Technical and Professional Communication over the next ten weeks.  I will even invite some of them to post to this blog.  I promise that their writing here, when it appears, will be well-written and a pleasure to read!