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ABET & Engineering Accreditation - History, Theory, Practice: Initial Findings from a National Study on the Governance of Engineering Education

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Conference

2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 14: Thinking about the Engineering Curriculum

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count

19

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/32020

Download Count

21

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Paper Authors

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Atsushi Akera Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Atsushi Akera is Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in the History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania. His current research is on the history of engineering education reform in the United States (1945-present). He is a the immediate past chair of the ASEE Ad Hoc Committee on Interdivisional Cooperation; Chair of the International Network for Engineering Studies (INES); past chair of the ASEE Liberal Education / Engineering and Society Division; and a former member of the Society for the History of Technology’s (SHOT) Executive Council. Publications include /Calculating a Natural World: Scientists, Engineers and Computers during the Rise of U.S. Cold War Research/ (MIT Press, 2006).

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Sarah Appelhans University at Albany

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Sarah Appelhans is a PhD candidate in Cultural Anthropology. Her dissertation research, "Steel Toes and Ponytails: Gender and Belonging in Engineering", investigates the boundaries of membership in engineering in the Capital District of New York. She is honored to be a research assistant on the NSF-sponsored study on engineering education reform entitled "The Distributed System of Governance in Engineering Education." In addition to her academic experience, she is a former mechanical engineer with several years of experience in the aviation and construction industries.

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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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Thomas De Pree Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Thomas De Pree is a PhD student and HASS Fellow of Science and Technology Studies in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Trained in sociocultural anthropology, he received a BA in Anthropology and Psychology from the University of New Mexico in 2010, and a MA in Anthropology and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2015.

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Soheil Fatehiboroujeni Indiana-Purdue University

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Soheil FatehiBoroujeni received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Merced in 2018. As a postdoctoral researcher at Purdue University, School of Engineering Education, Soheil is working on a multi-institutional project characterizing governance processes related to change in engineering education, and pursuing other research interests in epistemology and design, among other philosophical topics in engineering education.

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Jennifer Karlin Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Jennifer Karlin spent the first half of her career at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where she was a professor of industrial engineering and held the Pietz professorship for entrepreneurship and economic development. She is now a research professor of integrated engineering at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the managing partner of Kaizen Academic.

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Donna M. Riley Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Donna Riley is Kamyar Haghighi Head of the School of Engineering Education and Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

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Abstract

Who and by what means do we ensure that engineering education evolves to meet the ever changing needs of our society? This and other papers presented by our research team at this conference offer our initial set of findings from an NSF sponsored collaborative study on engineering education reform. Organized around the notion of higher education governance and the practice of educational reform, our open-ended study is based on conducting semi-structured interviews at over three dozen universities and engineering professional societies and organizations, along with a handful of scholars engaged in engineering education research. Organized as a multi-site, multi-scale study, our goal is to document differences in perspectives and interest the exist across organizational levels and institutions, and to describe the coordination that occurs (or fails to occur) in engineering education given the distributed structure of the engineering profession.

This paper offers for all engineering educators and administrators a qualitative and retrospective analysis of ABET EC 2000 and its implementation. The paper opens with a historical background on the Engineers Council for Professional Development (ECPD) and engineering accreditation; the rise of quantitative standards during the 1950s as a result of the push to implement an engineering science curriculum appropriate to the Cold War era; EC 2000 and its call for greater emphasis on professional skill sets amidst concerns about US manufacturing productivity and national competitiveness; the development of outcomes assessment and its implementation; and the successive negotiations about assessment practice and the training of both of program evaluators and assessment coordinators for the degree programs undergoing evaluation. It was these negotiations and the evolving practice of assessment that resulted in the latest set of changes in ABET engineering accreditation criteria (“1-7” versus “a-k”).

To provide an insight into the origins of EC 2000, the “Gang of Six,” consisting of a group of individuals loyal to ABET who used the pressure exerted by external organizations, along with a shared rhetoric of national competitiveness to forge a common vision organized around the expanded emphasis on professional skill sets. It was also significant that the Gang of Six was aware of the fact that the regional accreditation agencies were already contemplating a shift towards outcomes assessment; several also had a background in industrial engineering. However, this resulted in an assessment protocol for EC 2000 that remained ambiguous about whether the stated learning outcomes (Criterion 3) was something faculty had to demonstrate for all of their students, or whether EC 2000’s main emphasis was continuous improvement. When it proved difficult to demonstrate learning outcomes on the part of all students, ABET itself began to place greater emphasis on total quality management and continuous process improvement (TQM/CPI). This gave institutions an opening to begin using increasingly limited and proximate measures for the “a-k” student outcomes as evidence of effort and improvement. In what social scientific terms would be described as “tactical” resistance to perceived oppressive structures, this enabled ABET coordinators and the faculty in charge of degree programs, many of whom had their own internal improvement processes, to begin referring to the a-k criteria as “difficult to achieve” and “ambiguous,” which they sometimes were.

Inconsistencies in evaluation outcomes enabled those most discontented with the a-k student outcomes to use ABET’s own organizational processes to drive the latest revisions to EAC accreditation criteria, although the organization’s own process for member and stakeholder input ultimately restored much of the professional skill sets found in the original EC 2000 criteria. Other refinements were also made to the standard, including a new emphasis on diversity. This said, many within our interview population believe that EC 2000 had already achieved much of the changes it set out to achieve, especially with regards to broader professional skills such as communication, teamwork, and design. Regular faculty review of curricula is now also a more routine part of the engineering education landscape. While programs vary in their engagement with ABET, there are many who are skeptical about whether the new criteria will produce further improvements to their programs, with many arguing that their own internal processes are now the primary drivers for change.

Akera, A., & Appelhans, S., & Cheville, A., & De Pree, T., & Fatehiboroujeni, S., & Karlin, J., & Riley, D. M. (2019, June), ABET & Engineering Accreditation - History, Theory, Practice: Initial Findings from a National Study on the Governance of Engineering Education Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. https://peer.asee.org/32020

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: © 2019 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