I should confess from the beginning of this post that I am not an engineer. I have never taken an engineering class, I don’t even have any engineers in my family. But when reading Donna Riley’s paper about engineering assessments I new exactly what she was talking about. She argues “that this immediate crisis in engineering education is the logical result of an outcomes-based approach if what we value is assessable outcomes, then anything that appears difficult to assess (whether or not it is actually difficult to assess) will be devalued, and will ultimately drop off our list of educational goals”. This is certainly true in my field of political science as well.
A study a few years back asked graduates students in the political science department to create a political utopia. They were supposed to be unhindered by any material considerations. This hypothetical exercise was meant was supposed to leverage the creativity and innovative spirit of young scholars. The results were dismal. Not one of them was able to even hypothetically propose a system that differed from the one in which they lived. Their answers instead described minor tweaks in areas like healthcare, welfare programs, and education. This example highlights that overwhelmingly student’s creativity is hindered by something much more foundational. They’re natural problem solving abilities are being crippled by a system which is weighted too much on an “outcome-based approach”. Assessments are changing what we value in the academic world and creating students with a fear of failure. Assessments are an educational tool– a tool that now dictates how we educate students. This is a ludicrous as a hammer that informs the carpenter what he can and cannot build.