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A Philosophical Perspective on ABET's Proposed Changes to Criterion 3

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Trends in Accreditation and Assessment

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Alan Cheville Bucknell University

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Alan Cheville studied optoelectronics and ultrafast optics at Rice University, followed by 14 years as a faculty member at Oklahoma State University working on terahertz frequencies and engineering education. While at Oklahoma State, he developed courses in photonics and engineering design. After serving for two and a half years as a program director in engineering education at the National Science Foundation, he took a chair position in electrical engineering at Bucknell University. He is currently interested in engineering design education, engineering education policy, and the philosophy of engineering education.

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This paper critiques the proposed changes to the ABET criteria through the lens of the philosophical system outlined in 20th Century Scottish philosopher John Macmurray’s Gifford Lectures. Changes to ABET criteria reflect beliefs about the purpose of education, and philosophy enables a dialog about underlying beliefs and assumptions; thus this analysis is intended to provoke discussion of alternate forms and processes of accreditation. Macmurray’s philosophical system is chosen by replacing Descartes’ “I think” with “I act” he developed a framework that is focused on developing human agency which aligns well with both engineering education and ABET’s continual quality improvement (CQI) processes. In Macmurray’s system intention and reflection (evaluation) play an important role not only in the agent’s own human development, but in the form of societal entities that emerge from the interactions of many agents. Macmurray proposes three major modes of reflection by which an agent judges whether their action satisfies intention: scientific/pragmatic, artistic/contemplative, and personal/moral. It is claimed that ABET focuses predominately on pragmatic modes of reflection. It is also claimed that the mode of reflection faculty participate in through assessment/evaluation activities impacts the processes (means) of engineering education and engineering education’s ability to envision/achieve desired goals (ends). Given the overall scientific/pragmatic nature of engineering assessment, Macmurray’s philosophy predicts that the common modes of engineering reflection will likely result in focusing on efficiently improving students’ ability to act as engineers without simultaneous emphasizing their growth as a person and citizen. While philosophy is distinct from pedagogy and assessment practices, Macmurray’s philosophical system provides guidance for developing other modes of reflection that may enable engineering to recognize and work towards more student-centered ends.

Cheville, A. (2016, June), A Philosophical Perspective on ABET's Proposed Changes to Criterion 3 Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26390

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