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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mapping expectations on writing and communication in engineering within a regional context: accounts from a Latin-American case

  • Author(s): Narvaez-Cardona, Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Bazerman, Charles
  • et al.

In Latin America, writing curriculum is primarily focused on freshman initiatives, emerging engineering writing initiatives across curriculum are recent (as of 2009), and there is limited amount of studies in writing development in higher education. Therefore, this dissertation describes local elements at stake in Latin America to define disciplinary writing and communication expectations of development in higher education as a phenomenon that goes well beyond freshman composition courses. Multiple sites of expectations of writing in engineering have been revealed through diverse data sources: 1) Publications on Latin-American writing initiatives in engineering from Spanish-Speaking countries; 2) Online news on engineering from the two oldest newspapers in a developing country, Colombia; and, 3) A case study within the context of a Colombian major in Industrial Engineering examined through: a) Syllabi of the major and interviews with faculty members regarding accomplishing a senior thesis; b) Submitted senior thesis reports to fulfill degree requirements; and, c) A qualitative retrospective survey of writing experiences and samples of writing assignments of undergraduate students.

As a result, this dissertation is comprised of five chapters that address separately the analysis of the prior data sources. Overall this study claims that there are specific expectations associated with the field of industrial engineering in a developing economy that did not emerge when studies or initiatives regard “engineering” as one field without contextual nuances. One of the hypothesis emerging from this study is that the size and ideological localization of the companies that are likely the contexts of professional practices might impact a) the degree of complexity of the communication practices to negotiate solutions and circulate, create, and accept genres (small companies, few stakeholders involved, less negotiation to create and accept genres and standards, which might generate more vertical and hierarchical communication), and b) the opportunity for engineering students to develop critical stances about improving entrepreneurial environments, since they might be more concerned in genre consumption and production (such as regulations and guidelines) to regulate practices under external powerful standards (which might be primarily mandated by developed economies).

Furthermore, this study confirms that within the Engineering field in general, and in Industrial Engineering in particular, writing and communication rely on verbal and non-verbal practices that embrace different functions, which in turn imply several developmental paths that might or not might overlap, such as: a) Writing for learning disciplinary and professional concepts; b) Writing for research-oriented practices; c) Writing for commercial research-oriented practices; d) Writing for business-oriented practices; and, e) Writing for conducting and accomplishing a senior thesis. This study ultimately confirms that there is no way to assess writing development in higher education through only one source of data, since there are diverse paths configured by all of the stakeholders involved (government, writing specialists, faculty members of disciplines, students, and practitioners of the fields), which means that development is multifaceted.

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