Experiential learning and communication: IFixit in the technical writing classroom

Alyson Grace Eggleston, Robert J. Rabb

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Experiential learning and writing support long-term memory, pattern recognition, faster problem solving and learner confidence. Writing, too, has been shown in cognitive research to aid in achieving learning outcomes when used in targeted ways, such as in self-reflective inquiry, wherein students are asked to reflect on knowledge gaps or invited to connect old information and new. Industry stakeholders have also identified writing and communication as a key area for increased instructional attention and improvement. These research findings and industry values are further institutionalized through ABET student learning outcomes, particularly (g): “[demonstrate] an ability to communicate effectively.” However, conventional technical writing courses typically focus on writing for the sake of writing, and omit most forms of experiential learning. Armed with this research and disciplinary directive, the Technical Writing and Communication course, developed to meet the needs of the School of Engineering at The Citadel, has been recently revised to allow for more situated, industry-led, experiential learning opportunities. Results indicate that experiential learning contexts, supported by industry-informed writing tasks, serves to increase students' observed and self-perceived written and verbal communication skills across a variety of contexts. This paper reports on communicative performance differences between two Technical Writing and Communication course designs: a control course, featuring a more traditional approach to technical writing and assignments, and an experimental course, which featured an intervention whereby student teams completed an electro-mechanical device repair and documentation project. The device repair and documentation project requires students to propose and report on deliverables to corporate representatives, produce user-oriented technical prose supported by detailed photography, and proceed with the project according to their own declared timelines to deliver publish-ready user guides. At completion, these user guides are published on the site and accessed by a growing network of global users. It is hypothesized that the experiential device repair and documentation project uniquely equips students in the experimental cohort with procedural approaches to technical writing that serve as incomparable supports when they are later tasked with larger, more open-ended writing tasks. Using quantitative and qualitative results, this paper provides evidence that experiential learning opportunities in an engineering-focused Technical Writing and Communications course is a best fit for this demographic's learning preferences and creates measurable course impacts. Longitudinal data collected from these outcomes allow for a better reading of student performance gains, and results will guide future instructional design choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019
Event126th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Charged Up for the Next 125 Years, ASEE 2019 - Tampa, United States
Duration: Jun 15 2019Jun 19 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Engineering(all)


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