Some points related to Assessment

The recent two decades introduced some changes, while education systems are still trying to address previous issues and respond to the new requirements. Engineers of today are required to go beyond simple knowledge about discipline-related concepts. Topics such as communication, teamwork, understanding ethics and professionalism, work in the global and societal context, lifelong learning, knowledge of contemporary issues, context of engineering, perceptions of engineering, beliefs about own abilities, higher-order thinking, design process, adaptive expertise, intellectual development, etc. were different aspects of “knowledge for a new generation of engineers”.

According to ABET, universities are now accountable for demonstrating their effectiveness of teaching, especially due to the focus switch from input measurements to the output measurements. There are different approaches to teaching itself that are trying to influence the development of these engineering and professional skills. Ethics can be taught across curriculum with specific examples that could raise student’s awareness about the potentially “unintended harm” cases. Study-abroad programs and humanities and social sciences adopted for engineers can also play a significant role in the curriculum. In addition, there is a need for early exposure to “real” interdisciplinary, hands-on engineering practice, team work, systems thinking, and creative design. This could be coordinated to include close interaction with industry, broad use of information technology, and horizontal and vertical integration of subject matter. Finally, life-long learning is usually related to professional engineer licenses.

But this is not all. I see this dynamic behavior in education through a metaphor from basic control theory, represented as a feedback (closed-loop) control. The output of the system (students’ knowledge and skills) is fed back through a sensor measurement (assessment and evaluation) to the reference value. The controller (faculty and staff) then takes the difference between the reference (ABET) and the output to change the
input (teaching, administrative policies, equipment, etc.). Under the previous complex requirements and increased teaching efforts, the question of assessment becomes crucial.

But what is assessment? By its definition, the assessment is the act of collecting data that can be used to measure individual student’s competencies. This data is later evaluated, leading to “reasonable” accurate results and evidence about the student’s performance. So, assessment is an integral and inseparable component of education. Assessment can present information not just on student’s knowledge but on professors teaching techniques and university’s organization.

There are many requirements for modern assessment techniques. One of the most important one is that they have to be relate to expected, clear and important learning goals. They have to be cost-effective in terms of time, and applicable for transparent communication. Assessment techniques of today need to address all the forms of diversity present among students. This is the reason assessment has become a NxM scale problem since we have different student types (N) and we are trying to assess different skills and knowledge (M). So, we need robust and effective assessment techniques. Fortunately, there are many of them already existing, so we “just” need to implement them (interviews, conversational analysis, randomized control trials, verbal exams, small on-line quizzes, blog activities, multisource feedback, project rubrics, self-ratings, behavioral observations for evaluating attitudes, employer assessment of graduates’ preparation, etc.). These techniques can be used for direct and indirect assessment of communication, team work, process effectiveness, innovativeness, sustainable design, and other skills, in addition to simple knowledge evaluation. However, this implementation is where our professional judgment, as future faculty, needs to determine what, when, and how.

To conclude, professional skills required nowadays are harder to assess, especially since most of college professors are self-taught in the area of assessment design. Instructors would need to collaborate more with education researches for improving their techniques. Emphasize should be on the continuous assessment of students and one-on-one assistance, while providing a variety of ways for expressing the knowledge. In addition, faculty needs to create detailed (per lecture) learning goals in order to teach and later on assess specific skills. Faculty should be supported to increase the utilization of electronic testing resources that could improve cost-effectiveness. Finally, awarding faculty (with more time, resources, different tenure criteria, etc.) that invest additional efforts and develop new teaching techniques should become a state-of-practice.

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