Student conference as a student centred environment for integrating technical writings into computer engineering curriculum
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Problem Statement: In today's world there are pressures on universities to ensure that graduates have the capacity to meet the needs of employers. One aspect of this is to ensure that students, along with professional skills, possess personal skills such as communication, teamwork, and presentation skills. At the same time, many faculty members note that at the beginning of education freshmen students have a low level of self-confidence, lack of communication skills, and teamwork experience. The introductory part of the Computer Engineering curriculum contains one or two courses which can improve students' communication skills. These courses are Technical Writings or Technical English. Usually these courses are given by English language instructors in a traditional way and communication skills are not in practical use on an introductory level.Purpose: The main purpose of the study is to develop a new approach for integrating Technical English courses into computer engineering curriculum. Such integration has to increase students' involvement into project design (team work) from the very beginning of education, increase motivation to study technical English, improve language knowledge, and increase students' self-confidence and communication skills.Method: As a research method we have applied the Project-Based Learning approach for the Technical English course. The project we suggested to freshman students is a Student Conference, which they have to organize and host by themselves.During the project, every student has to play three different roles: to participate in organizing and hosting the conference, to write and present a research paper, and to review submitted research papers. These roles support the students to improve team working, project management, research, and written and oral communication skills. Dealing with topics from the popular subjects of computer engineering area, the Student Conference bridges the gap between engineering courses and technical writing.Six different committees were formed by the students: Advisory Board, Program Committee, Conference Chairs, Organization Committee, Publishing Group, and the Technical Support Group. During the semester, the members of the Advisory Board gave lectures on project/conference management, research methods, plagiarism, and presentation techniques as well as on advanced English grammar.At the end of the project, a one day conference was hosted by students where they presented their posters and released conference proceedings.Findings and Results: As a project, the Student Conference has allowed Computer Engineering students to be involved in a real life project. The students engaged in activities that develop and foster the use of learning strategies such as goal setting, planning, self-evaluation, confidence, and risk-taking. The language knowledge of students has been increased, and they were introduced to technical writing methods. However, by this project, technical writings became a tool for knowledge of a topic of choice rather than the focus of study.Conclusions and Recommendations: Because this project was by nature multidimensional, it lends itself well to evaluate multiple outcomes. Within our framework we have included three sources of assessment: instructors, peers, and students. All of them have shown the increasing level of satisfaction among students and instructors. This approach can be used for integrating social elective courses into engineering curricula on all levels of university education.