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Assessment In A Pbl Context: Towards Validity And Reliability

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.281.1 - 12.281.8



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Paper Authors

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Charles Mphande Victoria University

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Paul Bronson Victoria University

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Robert ives Victoria University

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Juan SHI Victoria University

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Alec Simcock Victoria University

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

Assessment in a PBL Context: Towards Validity and Reliability


In 2006, Victoria University (VU) in Melbourne, Australia, started to teach its undergraduate engineering programs using Problem Based Learning (PBL). This was done in response to perceived inadequacies of the weaker graduates produced by a more traditional course structure. The introduction of PBL has allowed the University to address simultaneously the requirements of the Accreditation Authority, and compensate for the problems ensuing from the standards of prior education of students entering these programs. In order to assess the PBL component of the programs within the School of Electrical Engineering, it was decided that a SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) taxonomy should be adopted. Initial experiences of using SOLO have revealed problems, resulting in the need to develop a criterion-valid and interrater reliable basis for assessment. As a case study, this paper considers the use of rubrics as a tool to augment the existing SOLO classification of student performance. As well as guiding students as to what is expected of them, rubrics have provided better results for assessment of PBL deliverables, such as portfolios, as this approach takes into account a broader range of measurable variables. Therefore, rubrics have enabled a mechanism for improving uniformity in all assessment and for bi-directional feedback between staff and students.


PBL approaches have been used in many different ways in higher learning to achieve various goals in study programs. In the engineering programs offered within VU’s School of Electrical Engineering, the PBL approach has been adopted and adapted to answer increasing demands from accreditation bodies and industry for graduates that: • have problem solving skills; • have a practical orientation towards engineering; • are able to communicate effectively within professional circles and without; • are attuned to life-long learning 1.

A consultant employed by the University to consider the use of PBL for the undergraduate engineering problems advised:

“... PBL provides the means to: • address more explicitly the essential attributes needed by engineering graduates in professional practice; • enhance pedagogical effectiveness; • tackle at the outset the learning difficulties faced by many commencing students’’ 2.

As a corollary, assessment of such learning has called for alternatives to the traditional assessments. In the context of VU, traditional assessment has taken the form of: end of semester examinations, semester tests, and assessments of laboratory based exercises, etc.

There is a large body of literature about alternative assessment in schools as well as higher education 3, 4, 5, 6. The reasons for alternative forms of assessment have been varied, ranging from dissatisfaction with the traditional assessment methods to meeting innovative

Mphande, C., & Bronson, P., & ives, R., & SHI, J., & Simcock, A. (2007, June), Assessment In A Pbl Context: Towards Validity And Reliability Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1970

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