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  • Unlocking the Secrets of Communication in Science and Engineering
  • Xiaoqiong You (bio)
Learning to Communicate in Science and Engineering: Case Studies from MIT. By Mya Poe, Neal Lerner, and Jennifer Craig. MIT Press, 2010. 256 pages.

Learning to Communicate in Science and Engineering explores four related elements of learning and communication in science and engineering: faculty, students, learning contexts, and communication tasks and process. As a newcomer in the field of writing across the curriculum (WAC) and writing in the disciplines (WID), I find that the case studies in each chapter offer detailed description of subjects and participants (students and their communication instructors and subject faculty), as well as theoretical and pedagogical insights. The chapters are grounded in theories and concepts familiar to professionals in the field, such as process pedagogy and multimodality, and they introduce the specific contexts in science and engineering, such as authentic communication genre and process, visual data, and collaborative learning. The book will be useful to researchers and educators in both composition/communication and science and engineering.

Mya Poe, Neal Lerner, and Jennifer Craig understand that the case studies are “part of a national trend in engineering and science education toward achieving communication outcomes” (2). Since 2002 this trend has [End Page 391] been driven by professional organizations, such as the National Science Foundation, and accrediting agencies, such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. These organizations call for effective communication skills for students in science and engineering. The three authors were, at the time, all part of MIT’s Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. As scholars in WAC and WID and communication across the curriculum (CxC), they set out to explore ways in which learning to communicate helps students think in and identify with a discipline.

The first five chapters describe how students learn to write and speak in five different classes and disciplines. The course profiles are not representative of an individual discipline at MIT but are singled out from five departments “identified as having developed highly effective and efficient CI [communications-intensive] instruction methods — current ‘best practices’” (15). Further, they “might follow one another so readers can see the learning trajectory of students as they move from one CI experience to the next” (15). That is, this book has assembled the best practices in CxC in science and engineering as a comprehensive field, emphasizing for readers the importance of understanding the whole process of learning to communicate in science and engineering.

Chapter 1, examining the role of identity for students in biology, finds that students view scientific writing as knowledge transfer more than as rhetorical acts and that students’ uncertainty with discursive identities affects their performance in scientific communication. Chapter 2 describes more advanced students in biological engineering engaged in authentic communication tasks that, being challenging but powerful, help them confirm and develop their professional identities. Chapter 3 examines how authentic grant writing in health sciences technology continues to develop graduate students’ professional identities as they build their research niches, and chapter 4 addresses how these students learn to persuade with visual data, gaining a deeper understanding of how to make arguments with data as evidence. Chapter 5 turns to the relationship of collaborative communication and teamwork in aeronautic/astronautic engineering, featuring interpersonal skills, division of labor, commitment to the overall project goal, explicit structuring, and scaffolding. The sixth chapter concludes all findings and insights from the case studies and their universal pedagogical implications across the disciplines.

Learning to Communicate elaborates three related contexts of learning to communicate in science and engineering. The first reveals the whole process of professional development so that students will know which learning and communication skills are required for their stage of professionalization. [End Page 392] The second context depicts the multiple faces of each course, including whether the course is well established or popular among students, what writing tasks students are engaged in, what are the goals for students’ learning and communication activities, what level of experience students bring to the course, and what teacher comments students usually receive. This information helps readers understand the subsequent case studies of individual students and the key findings in courses that the authors have studied.

The third...


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pp. 391-395
Launched on MUSE
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