Engineering Students' Communication Apprehension and Competence in Technical Oral Presentations

Engineering Students' Communication Apprehension and Competence in Technical Oral Presentations

Noor Raha Mohd Radzuan (Universiti Malaysia Pahang, Malaysia) and Sarjit Kaur (Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9970-0.ch020
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The demand for 21st century engineering graduates to be communicatively competent, particularly in English language, is increasing. Effective communication skills are one of the main competencies listed by the Malaysian Engineering Accreditation Council Policy with the expectation that all Malaysian engineering graduates will master it upon graduation. This involves skills in presenting information to technical and non technical audience through oral presentations. This chapter aims to examine engineering students' communication competence and their level of apprehension in delivering a technical oral presentation. Questionnaires, adapted from McCroskey's (1988) Self-Perceived Communication Competence and Richmond & McCroskey's (1988) Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety, were distributed to 193 final year Universiti Malaysia Pahang engineering students who were preparing for their Undergraduate Research presentation. The results of the study have direct and indirect implications to the teaching and learning of oral presentation skills among engineering undergraduates.
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Educational Policy on English Language in Malaysia

Realizing the importance of workforce to be highly proficient and competent in written and oral English, some changes to the educational policy regarding English language have been made by the Malaysian Ministry of Education such as the introduction of the Malaysian University English Test (MUET) in 2000 which aimed to enhance pre-university students’ level of English language proficiency. Then, in 2003, English was used as the medium of instruction for Mathematics and Science subjects in secondary schools with the main intention of enhancing students’ English language ability as part of their preparation before they enrolled in local universities in preparation to join the future workforce. However, the use of English to learn Math and Science was reverted in 2012 in all schools. Instead, more hours have been allocated to the teaching of English in an effort to strengthen mastery of the language. The hotly debated issue of the declining standards of English proficiency among Malaysian students and university graduates has captured the attention of the Ministry of Education. Recently, the Education Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that all Form Five students will need to obtain a compulsory pass in the English subject in the national examination (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia; equivalent to the British ‘O’ level) in 2016. This policy implementation is seen as being vital in ensuring and encouraging Malaysian students to be bilingually proficient in Bahasa Malaysia and English (Singh, 2013).

To date, many studies attempting to establish the level of English proficiency among Malaysian undergraduates have been conducted. For instance, Pawanchik (2006) surveyed 120 matriculation students’ English language proficiency levels. The findings show that almost 60% of the students achieved Band 1 (extremely limited user), Band 2 (limited user) or Band 3 (modest user) in their MUET scores. In another study conducted by Yasin et al. (2010) among 169 diploma and certificate students in one Malaysian Polytechnic found that more than 70% of the students only obtained low scores in the English subject in the Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) examination. Besides results in national examinations which signify the low level of English among Malaysian graduates, the students themselves reported that they encounterd problems in speaking English confidently as well as experiencing English communication apprehension (Sarudin, Zubairi & Ali, 2009; Radzuan, 2008). Despite the realization of the importance of good English language ability, many findings on Malaysian students’ English ability raise much concern about the readiness of our graduates for the workplace. Research shows that the rate of unemployment among Malaysian graduates is attributed to their lack of technical skills and poor employability skills (Hanapi and Nordin, 2014; Ismail, Yussof, and Lai, 2011). They defined employability skills as “the quality and personal insights which a graduate should have” (p. 1058) and it includes English communication skills and problem solving skills (Ismail, Yussof, and Lai, 2011). They further reported that employers demand highly competent English language communicators.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Self-Perceived Communication Competence: A person’s perception on how competent he/ she thinks is in communicating in English language.

Presentation Skills: Skills that are needed to deliver presentations effectively for instance, eye contact and body language.

Technical Oral Presentation: A prepared formal oral presentation on Final Year Project delivered by final year undergraduate engineering students.

Engineering Students: Final year chemical engineering students who are currently working on Final Year Project (FYP) and studying in Universiti Malaysia Pahang, Malaysia.

Technical Oral Presentation Anxiety: The feeling of fear and worry in delivering technical oral presentations.

Perception: A belief or opinion held by one person on a matter.

Undergraduate Research Project: A two-semester course which requires engineering students to work on a project individually as part of the fulfilment of graduation requirements.

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