Tuesday, October 27, 2009

IME 1020: offering students professional communication skills the first year

Sometime during their first year of college, most CEAS and aviation students take IME 1020 Technical Communication, a three-credit-hour course that provides a total immersion in professional communication.
According to Tom Swartz, the master faculty specialist who has coordinated IME 1020 since 2003, IME 1020 is offered in about 30 sections to approximately 600 students each year. In addition to the regular classroom sessions, he has also set up E-learning components of the courses.

ED Eckel (standing), the science/engineering librarian for the University,
shows IME 1020 students how to use library databases

According to Swartz, the IME 1020 program was initiated in the early 1970s when WMU experimented with eliminating the requirement for a first-year English writing class to encourage writing across the curriculum. “Those at the engineering college said CEAS students should have a technical writing course,” he said. “Later when the University decided that English composition should again be required, the [engineering] college decided to keep the new technical writing course.”

At the heart of the IME 1020 curriculum is the requirement that students research, write, document, and produce a formal 12-to 17-page research paper that uses current, high quality resources and focuses on an engineering topic. Students follow a research process that includes choosing and limiting a topic, learning about scholarly research, and collecting the best current information on the topic.

The process requires several standardized assignments: a topic proposal, a bibliography of sources, an outline, and an abstract. Students use the American Psychological Association (APA) documentation style, and present the results in a written report and in an oral presentation to the class.

Ed Eckel, the science/engineering librarian for the University, along with many others at Waldo Library, offers ongoing support to the IME 1020 course. They provide IME 1020 students with a focused course guide on the library’s Web site with direct links to the sources that help them with their assignments.

The WMU library also provides a student-oriented self-paced electronic research review, recently upgraded and called Research Path. In its six modules students receive a complete overview of the major steps involved in the research process. Students are then quizzed on the module material, and the results of the quizzes can be electronically forwarded to the instructors.

IME 1020 students learn to write an assess procedural instructions.  First-year students Michelle Repka (left) and Katie Stickels read instructions written by another IME 1020 team to create a K’Nex item.

IME 1020 students work in teams to learn how to write good instructions. Each team designs a three-dimensional K’Nex object and writes instructions to make the object. Other teams assess the instructions.

Other course requirements include learning formats for business letters, memos, and e-mail, preparing a career assessment of a chosen major, and registering for WMU’s career Web site. Students also study ethics, standards for source material, and the use of visuals. Assignments are word-processed and must feature complete sentences and standard grammar, spelling, and mechanics.

IME 1020 instructors work closely with the CEAS STEP program to help first-year students connect with the University. New lifelong learning components of the course encourage students to explore professional societies and attend and write reflections on special WMU events. “We read and assess a lot of student papers,” said Troy Place, a faculty specialist who teaches three sections of IME 1020 each semester.

Swartz says all IME 1020 instructors adhere to a tradition of maintaining high academic standards and expecting professional behavior from students. “To prepare for professional careers, students need to have WOVEn communication skills – Written, Oral, Visual, and Electronic,” he said. He continually updates a study guide with pertinent assignment information for students, and he provides an electronic course template for IME 1020 instructors.