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A Holistic Approach For Student Assessment In Project Based Multidisciplinary Engineering Capstone Design

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Assessment and Evaluation in Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.42.1 - 15.42.13



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Paper Authors

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Mark Steiner Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Junichi Kanai Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Richard Alben Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Lester Gerhardt Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Cheng Hsu Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Holistic Approach for Student Assessment in Project-based Multidisciplinary Engineering Capstone Design


A capstone design course involves multiple variables and complexities which make its teaching conspicuously challenging1,2; e.g., sponsors’ requirements, team dynamics, and available resources, as well as the usual engineering educational goals. At the core of the challenge is assessment – giving each student a fair final grade. In this paper we describe a holistic approach to developing a fair and accurate evaluation of individual students in multidisciplinary teams. The rubrics of the approach include faculty assessment of communication skills, team participation, design process, and project results, with input from students and sponsors to calibrate the evaluations of the instructors. This approach represents an evolution from our traditional methods, which were based primarily on group reports, and student peer evaluations. In addition, we adopted a new team teaching approach that facilitates multidisciplinary participation; and also made the grading processes more objective by separating the roles associated with instructor, coaching, and judging. Furthermore, implementation of a communication intensive requirement provided greater insight into individual student contributions. The holistic approach allows greater consistency in the grading process yet is flexible enough to handle a wide variety of multidisciplinary design projects and helps accommodate different disciplinary foci. We submit that the basic structure of the assessment (i.e., blending objectives with procedural justice and evaluation from multiple sources) is consistent with practices in industry that students will face after their graduation.

Background and Outline of Paper

Experienced engineers commonly agree that most of the design problems they face in practice are multi-faceted challenges that involve conflicting trade-offs and ambiguities that are solved via an iterative process. In support of this reality, ABET calls for a capstone design experience prior to graduation that teaches engineering students about teamwork, communication, and the engineering design process.3 In a university environment where faculty members specialize in disciplinary areas, teaching a multidisciplinary capstone design course where a diversity of knowledge, skills, and experience is required can be a challenging situation. Our experience is that engineering instructors are sometimes uncomfortable teaching a capstone course because of the uncertainties associated with providing fair and accurate assessment of individual student performance.

This paper is based on our work over the past ten years.4 It begins with a brief discussion of some of the factors that influence capstone projects, an overview of the characteristics of our program and then a process timeline for our capstone design course. The following section focuses on three changes that were made in 2008-09 to improve understanding of student assessment, namely; project level administration, separation of mentoring and assessment roles, and grading rubrics for engineering communication assignments. The concluding section discusses the consistency of assessment inputs in our current approach and summarizes lessons learned.

Steiner, M., & Kanai, J., & Alben, R., & Gerhardt, L., & Hsu, C. (2010, June), A Holistic Approach For Student Assessment In Project Based Multidisciplinary Engineering Capstone Design Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15785

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