Writing woes

That the writing curriculum at Tech is weak is not news, but when a student brought up the question at this week’s State of the Institute Address, Interim President Gary Schuster’s response suggested a lack of direction. After taking ENGL 1101 and 1102, students are handed over to their major departments, where they expect to be taught the technical communications skills they will need to compete upon graduation, only to be severely disappointed.

Most engineering departments just hand their students right back to the School of Literature, Communication and Culture, where they are required to take LCC 3401 (Technical Communication Practices). This class has consistently been known for its low level of rigor and for covering basic topics that should have been taught in GT 1000. Being told how to appropriately address a superior in e-mails leaves students feeling like they gained no practical skills to aid them in their classes, senior projects or in the workplace.

The School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, however, has creatively taken the matter into its own hands. To ensure that its students are equipped with the necessary writing and communications skills, it has worked in conjunction with the School of Literature, Communication and Culture to create a demanding curriculum that holds students to a higher writing standard while offering appropriate support.

Required lab courses, which include several writing assignments, begin with meetings with the professor and a writing consultant from the School of Literature, Communication and Culture to ensure students understand what is required of their technical writing. Students also meet with graduate teaching assistants and are allowed to revise their reports based on constructive personal feedback. Finally, there is even a staffed writing lab that students can take advantage of if they need additional help.

This model has innovatively combined the theory and applications of engineering with the communication skills required in the business world, and should be implemented at other schools across Tech. This in-sourced approach would better succeed at teaching technical communication skills than the class currently tasked to do so. LCC 3401 is not serving its intended purpose and should be eliminated.

Tech engineers increasingly need to compete with highly trained colleagues from countries like India and China. What will set us apart will be our ability to effectively write, communicate and present in interdisciplinary and international settings. Tech’s writing curriculum is failing to prepare students for this challenge.