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Academic Needs Assessment to Inform Course and Program Design: A Hybrid Vehicle Engineering Program as a Case Study

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.139.1 - 26.139.13



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Paper Authors


Ken C Stanton Colorado State University

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Ken Stanton earned his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in Engineering Education before relocating to begin post-doctoral work at Colorado State University, where he co-created the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Engineering program. Remaining a research affiliate with the university, Stanton left CSU to help open a charter high school nearby, where he taught in and led the mathematics department. Most recently, Stanton has again shifted direction to pursue entrepreneurial adventures in the educational domain, but remains passionate about the engineering education field.

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Thomas H. Bradley Colorado State University

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Thomas H. Bradley is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering at Colorado State University, where he conducts research and teaches a variety of courses in analysis, design and policy for sustainable energy systems. In 2013, Bradley was awarded the Ralph R. Teetor Award for Excellence in Engineering Education and the US Dept of Energy EcoCAR2 Outstanding Incoming Faculty Advisor Award.

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Academic Needs Assessment to Inform Course and Program Design: A Hybrid Vehicle Engineering Program as a Case Study1. IntroductionEstablishment of the defining and overarching learning objectives for an engineering program can be daunting, yetthis aspect of the assessment process is largely underappreciated in the literature. Creating these objectives is alsochallenging as various educational philosophies, interests, and perspectives are frequently present. For example,some believe that academia’s main purpose is higher learning, while others posit that job placement is the majorfocus. Such differences can lead to a variety of distinct learning objectives, which in turn lead to very differentacademic curricula. Therefore, it is essential to first consider such purposes and then carefully tune the programobjectives to said purposes, and to have guidance with writing the objectives themselves.When designing an engineering program that is focused on job and career placement, learning objectives should befocused on outcomes that lead to employment. Therefore, a logical step is to conduct an industry-informed,academic needs assessment to guide the creation of learning objectives and certain general aspects of the program,such that the program truly fills the gap between students’ abilities and interests and employers’ needs. This type ofprogram is very important today as employers have trouble finding qualified employees and students graduate withlarge student loan debt, and hence need to find employment quickly to ensure financial security. The industry-informed needs assessment that is presented here is designed to bring these two entities together, but can also beused to assess any gap that higher education needs to fill.This paper presents the use of a needs assessment process to conduct an industry-informed, academic needsassessment, exemplified in the creation of a hybrid-electric vehicle engineering program at Colorado StateUniversity (CSU). The program that was created is used as a case study to illustrate how the process and results ofthe needs assessment guide creation of the learning objectives and program details, so that readers can readily utilizethis process for their own needs.2. MethodsThe needs assessment process applied was designed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) [1], has twelve steps to follow, and can be used for a variety of applications. The process stronglyresembles the educational research process, with some additional considerations for the curricular outcomes asopposed to answering research questions or hypotheses. The steps are excluded from this abstract for brevity.The foremost goals of the needs assessment were to create program and course learning objectives, as well asguidelines for a certificate, both for a program focused on job placement in the hybrid-electric vehicle engineeringindustry. To do this, all stakeholders were first considered, including students, faculty, industry, and researchers, fortheir role in the program design. Input was taken from stakeholders in the form of both interviews and surveyscreated from pilot development work at CSU. Then, names and contact information were sought for as manyindividuals as possible from each stakeholder group. Interviews were conducted and recorded and surveysdistributed and collected, after IRB approval was obtained. Lastly, literature, websites, and related information fromother colleges and universities with hybrid vehicle programs were collected and reviewed.It is worth noting that interviews and surveys were selected as the instruments for this study for reasons beyond justresearch methodology interests. Interviews were recorded and interviewees asked if we could use “snippets,” orsmall audio segments, of their interviews in our classes to demonstrate to students, in the words of those mostconnected to the field, why topics were interesting or valuable for an engineer to study. As well, survey data wasuseful beyond its specific research purpose because experience has shown that engineers and engineering professorshave an affinity for numbers and hard data, and those are precisely the people this program is designed to reach.After collection, analysis was performed using basic statistics for the quantitative data and simple coding andsynthesis for qualitative data. Only basic statistics were necessary to analyze the survey data for our program designneeds. Coding of the qualitative interview data was more extensive, and had two major categories during review: 1)which topics of hybrid vehicle engineering does this relate to, and 2) what underlying educational concerns areexpressed by the interviewees? Following, the codified data were synthesized and reviewed for relationships witheach other and with the needs assessment products – i.e., learning objectives and certificate guidelines. Finally, theresults were synthesized into program learning objectives, course learning objectives, and certificate guidelines.3. ResultsInvitations were sent to 47 individuals for participation in the study, including 15 from the automotive industry, 17from hybrid vehicle component companies, 5 academic researchers and experts, 6 from national labs, and 4 fromregulatory agencies. Of those, respondents included 5 from the auto industry, 7 from the component companies, 3from academia, 3 from national labs, and 2 from regulatory agencies, for a total of 20 participants. In addition tothese 20 participants, there have been over 50 students who have enrolled in the program courses, where data hasbeen collected from them in many forms, including concept maps, focus groups, course surveys, and coursework.The results of the data analysis and synthesis include 6 overarching program learning objectives, learning objectivesfor the 4 program courses, and 3 major certificate guidelines. Interestingly, the needs assessment study revealed aset of priorities for the aforementioned outcomes that contrast with the typical goals and objectives of highereducation courses. For one, skills, such as problem-solving and computer simulation, were rated far more importantby stakeholders than most engineering faculty members typically allot for in their courses. Similarly, stakeholdersresponsible for hiring said that they are not as interested in deep technical knowledge in engineers as they are inawareness of the state-of-the-art and existing problems in the hybrid-electric vehicles. As well, every stakeholderemphasized the importance of communication skills and hands-on experience. As such, the program learningobjectives and certificate guidelines were created around these findings, leading to a program that promises to bewell-designed to prepare graduates to find work in the hybrid-electric vehicle engineering industry; one student hasalready found employment with BMW in Germany due partly to his studies in the program.

Stanton, K. C., & Bradley, T. H. (2015, June), Academic Needs Assessment to Inform Course and Program Design: A Hybrid Vehicle Engineering Program as a Case Study Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23478

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