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Exploring Student Sustainability Knowledge using the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session


Tagged Divisions

Multidisciplinary Engineering and Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.583.1 - 24.583.18



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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, Dr. Watson earned her Ph.D. in civil and environmental Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. She also has B.S. and M.S. degrees in biosystems engineering from Clemson University. Dr. Watson’s research interests are in the areas
of engineering education and biological waste treatment. Specifically, she has been involved in research projects to develop, refine, and apply innovative assessment tools for characterizing student knowledge
of sustainability. Her ultimate goal is to use this assessment data to guide the design and evaluation of educational interventions to improve undergraduate sustainability education. In the area of bioprocessing,
Dr. Watson has experience using bacteria and algae to convert waste materials into high-value products, such as biofuels.

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Joshua Pelkey AirWatch

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Joshua Pelkey is currently a product manager at AirWatch in Atlanta, Ga. He completed his M.S. in electrical and computer engineering at Georgia Tech and his B.S. in computer engineering from Clemson University. He has conducted research and led design projects in a variety of fields, including enterprise mobility management, wireless communications, and remote monitoring of environmental systems. Joshua has been very interested and well-versed in sustainability issues since his tenure as an Engineers Without Borders member and webmaster at Clemson.

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Michael Owen Rodgers Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Michael Rodgers is a research professor in the Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a principal research scientist and distinguished technical fellow with the Georgia Tech
Research Institute. Over the last 30-plus years, Dr. Rodgers has held various academic, research, and administrative positions, including serving as director of the Georgia Tech Air Quality Laboratory from
1988 to 2008. He currently serves as deputy director for research and technology transfer for the National Center for Transportation Productivity and Management at Georgia Tech.

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Caroline R. Noyes Georgia Institute of Technology

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Caroline Noyes is trained as an educational psychologist, and her education and work have focused on assessing student learning both in and outside of the classroom. Experiences in both academic affairs and student affairs provide her with a holistic understanding of the modern university and a broad collection of assessment methodologies suitable to a variety of situations. As her intellectual pursuits turned increasingly towards broader applications of educational assessment and evaluation, she left the classroom and moved to an administrative position focusing on both academic assessment of student learning and program evaluation. This administrative move has allowed her to increase the use of qualitative assessment methods, and to enhance her skills in survey design.

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Analyzing Student Sustainability Knowledge using the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes Taxonomy Although technological innovation may have contributed to current unsustainablepractices, engineering is important for developing and implementing sustainable developmentstrategies. Sustainability engineering has emerged as a new field aimed at integrating andbalancing economic, environmental, and social systems during global development. To properlyguide educational reforms needed to train sustainably-conscious engineers, effective methods areneeded to assess the current status of student sustainability understanding. A study is currently being completed to demonstrate use of the Structure of ObservedLearning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy as a basis for simple student sustainability knowledgeassessments. The SOLO taxonomy is a topic-independent, conceptual development schema thatis used for assessment of student understanding of disciplinary topics. Based on work by JeanPiaget, the SOLO taxonomy proposes that students progress linearly though a series of stages(pre-structural, uni-structural, multi-structural, relational, and extended abstract) as theirknowledge matures from beginner to expert. Students enrolled in a Civil and EnvironmentalEngineering (CEE) capstone design course at a large research-intensive university in thesoutheastern United States were asked to “Describe sustainability in [their] own words.” Twoexpert judges are currently classifying student responses according to the SOLO taxonomy toinfer general understanding of the domain of sustainability. Inter-rater reliability will bequantified using Krippendorff’s alpha and insights for other engineering educators looking forrelatively quick measures of sustainability knowledge will be provided.

Watson, M. K., & Pelkey, J., & Rodgers, M. O., & Noyes, C. R. (2014, June), Exploring Student Sustainability Knowledge using the Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20474

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