Engineering Innovation Through Rhetorical Invention

Published in Professional Communication Conference (IPCC), 2016 IEEE International:

Teaching engineering students to innovate—to develop novel solutions, new applications, or original designs for solving problems—is becoming a more central concern in engineering education. Many programs are increasing the number of project-based courses, to provide students with the conditions in which innovation might occur, yet innovation remains difficult to teach directly. In one such course in Chemical Engineering, we introduced a framework to aid students in exploring the central questions of their projects, from how to define the problem, to how to recognize the value of previous approaches to specific technical challenges, to how to interpret the results of innovative research. This framework, which we call a “What-How-Why” diagram, integrates the thinking that chemical engineers need to cover as they design the work of a project, with the thinking that they need to do in order to communicate that work to an audience. We have found that this framework helps students to plan their work, to recognize potential areas for specific innovation, to better recognize the significance of variations in research design, and to communicate innovative solutions more effectively.


Suzanne Lane

About Suzanne Lane

Suzanne Lane is Senior Lecturer in Rhetoric and Communication, and Director of the Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication (WRAP) program. She holds a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from MIT, a master's in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado, and a doctorate in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research interests focus on contemporary rhetoric, genre theory, and argumentation studies, and she is particularly interested in sites of cultural contact between discourse communities and rhetorical cultures. In one research project, she has studied the rhetoric of slavery, especially the cultural forms of argumentation slaves developed; in another project, working with the Harvard Study of Undergraduate Writing, she has explored how students learn disciplinary-specific genres and forms of argumentation, and transfer them to new locations. She has also published fiction and poetry.


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