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A Systematic Review of Sustainability Assessments in ASEE Proceedings

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Program-Level Assessments for Multidisciplinary Areas

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Mary Katherine Watson The Citadel Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Mary Katherine Watson is currently an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Citadel. Prior to joining the faculty at The Citadel, Dr. Watson earned her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology. She also has BS and MS degrees in Biosystems Engineering from Clemson University. Dr. Watson’s research interests are in the areas of engineering education and biological waste treatment.

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Elise Barrella P.E. James Madison University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Elise Barrella is an Assistant Professor and Founding Faculty Member of the Department of Engineering at Wake Forest University. She is passionate about curriculum development, scholarship and student mentoring on transportation systems, sustainability, and engineering design. Dr. Barrella completed her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Georgia Tech where she conducted research in transportation and sustainability as part of the Infrastructure Research Group (IRG). In addition to the Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, Dr. Barrella holds a Master of City and Regional Planning (Transportation) from Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University. Dr. Barrella has investigated best practices in engineering education since 2003 (at Bucknell University) and began collaborating on sustainable engineering design research while at Georgia Tech. Prior to joining the WFU faculty, she led the junior capstone design sequence at James Madison University, was the inaugural director of the NAE Grand Challenges Program at JMU, and developed first-year coursework.

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Engineers are increasingly called upon to develop innovative solutions while balancing competing economic, environmental, and social design constraints. Consequently, many educators and professional organizations are calling for improvements in undergraduate engineering education to include sustainability content in order to equip students to engage in sustainable design. Indeed, ABET requires that engineering programs prepare students to consider sustainability constraints during design. Furthermore, accreditation of civil engineering programs by ABET now requires documentation that students more stringently include sustainability principles in the design process. To quantify the effectiveness of educational interventions aimed at developing sustainability-conscious engineers, appropriate assessment methods and tools are needed. Due to the broad, ill-defined, and often subjective nature of sustainability, assessment of related knowledge and design skills has proved challenging for many engineering educators. A variety of sustainability assessments, ranging from indirect to direct measures of student learning, are available but a comprehensive review of the field is needed to make the assessments more accessible and implementable by educators from across engineering disciplines.

A systematic review of ASEE conference proceedings was conducted to identify and discuss the quality of available methods for assessing student knowledge of and interest in sustainability. First, a search of the ASEE PEER database for the terms “sustainability + assessment” yielded 1001 results. Records with relevance indexes above 1.0 were screened based on their abstracts and appraised by their full texts according to four inclusion criteria: (1) The study is published during 2011 to 2016, (2) the study is published in English, (3) The study uses or presents a tool that assesses interest in, knowledge of, and/or ability to apply sustainability concepts and/or principles, and (4) The tool is generalizable to contexts beyond the presented study. Assessment tools presented in the 29 retained records were categorized according to assessment target: (1) conceptual knowledge about sustainability, (2) ability to engage in sustainable design, or (3) attitudes/beliefs/interests related to sustainability. Records and related assessment tools were further synthesized according to ASEE division, number of targets presented, directness of assessments, validity, and/or presence of scoring rubrics. Results revealed that survey items are most commonly used as indirect measures across all three assessment targets. Furthermore, analysis of records reveals that often times, several assessment tools across multiple targets are need to accurately capture the impact of educational interventions on student learning. In addition, there are gaps in the literature related to validated survey items and reproducible rubrics and scoring methods for direct assessment of knowledge and skills.

Watson, M. K., & Barrella, E. (2017, June), A Systematic Review of Sustainability Assessments in ASEE Proceedings Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27525

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015