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Introducing Contemporary Issues to Engineering Students: A Case Study Module

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Contextual Competencies

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.839.1 - 25.839.16



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Paper Authors


Joshua David Schwartz Trinity University

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Joshua Schwartz has been an Assistant Professor with the Engineering Science Department at Trinity University since 2010. His graduate and postdoctoral studies have garnered international recognition in the area of analog microwave signal processing. In 2008 McGill University awarded him the Governor General’s Gold Medal, Canada's highest academic award, for his doctoral thesis on the applications of a new microwave interconnect, and in 2009 he was awarded the distinguished IEEE Microwave Prize for the most significant paper contribution in an area of interest to the IEEE Microwave Theory & Techniques Society (MTT-S). Schwartz has authored or co-authored 25 papers and conferences including one Best Student Paper (ANTEM/URSI), and co-authored one book chapter on Optoelectronic VLSI. His expertise spans a broad variety of topics including photonics, analog and integrated circuits, microwave and mm-wave technology, and recently, sensing applications.

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Ashley Ater Kranov ABET

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Ashley Ater Kranov is ABET's Managing Director of Professional Services. Her department is responsible for ensuring the quality training of program evaluators, partnering with faculty and industry to conduct robust and innovative technical education research, and providing educational opportunities on sustainable assessment processes for program continuous improvement worldwide.

She is Principal Investigator of a NSF-funded validity study of her direct method for teaching and measuring the ABET engineering professional skills and is adjunct associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Washington State University where she co-teaches the senior design capstone sequence.

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Introducing Contemporary Issues to Engineering Students: A Case Study ModuleMany engineering educators struggle to find an effective way to integrate the study ofcontemporary issues into their curriculum in order to target ABET criterion 3j: Knowledge ofContemporary Issues. The nature of the subject matter makes this difficult – it demands of theinstructor to constantly develop fresh modules with issues culled from the latest headlines ortechnologies. The practice of re-using a single tried-and-true module is anathema to the goal ofthe criterion: to ensure that students are aware of the issues affecting engineers and the broadercommunity today.In 2010, an EE faculty partnered with an engineering assessment specialist to revise an existingcase scenario from the ASEE award-winning engineering professional skills assessment method(Ater Kranov, et al. 2008) and developed around it a module for teaching and assessingcontemporary issues. The module was implemented in the engineering department of a smallSouthwestern university struggling with an inadequate assessment tool, and resulted in asignificant turnaround in assessment scores.The module, which requires 30-40 minutes of in-class time, consists of a short (one-page) casestudy of a current topic related to engineering and having an impact in different contexts(political, social, economic, etc...). After the exercise is introduced to the students, the study isread aloud in class. Students form groups of 4-5 and participate in guided group discussion.Questions emphasize non-technical aspects of the issue: identifying the central and peripheralissues, key stakeholders and their motivations, and impacts (political, environmental, etc...).Answers are not recorded – students are encouraged to think about each question and see if thereis group consensus.Following discussion, students have one week to complete a two-part online quiz. The first partaddresses the specific contemporary issue raised and consists of 5 short-response questions thatprompt individual student investigation. The second part consists of 5 short-response questionswhich require students to seek out and locate other contemporary happenings: to identify newscientific publications, engineering-related news articles, and high-profile safety failures. Thequiz responses are then evaluated using a task-specific rubric and those questions which targetABET criterion 3j are assessed.In 2010, the authors selected a case study on the practice of lithium mining in Bolivia - a timelytopic to accompany the market arrival of new electric vehicles. The module was administeredand assessed identically at all levels of the curriculum. The department’s previous contemporaryissues format (a short 15-minute presentation followed by an in-class quiz) resulted incurriculum-wide average scores of 55% and 59% (2009-2010) in the sub-criteria “knowledge ofcontemporary issues that have a technological impact” and “knowledge of the impacts ofcontemporary issues in engineering/technology”, respectively, well below the target of 70%. Thenew module, taken by many of the same students, yielded averages of 86% and 81.5% (2010-2011) in the same categories. Moreover, many students indicated that they enjoyed the activity –with some asking if it could be done again.

Schwartz, J. D., & Ater Kranov, A. (2012, June), Introducing Contemporary Issues to Engineering Students: A Case Study Module Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21596

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