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Learning Outcomes Assessment Of A Project Abroad Program In South Africa: Toward "A Better Engineer In The Real World"

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

New Learning Paradigms II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.840.1 - 14.840.13

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Paper Authors


Laura Hahn University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Dr. Laura Hahn is a specialist in education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She consults with faculty in the College of Engineering on curriculum, instruction, teaching assistant development, and learning outcomes assessment. She has helped develop two project-abroad programs for students in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

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Alan Hansen University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Alan Hansen received his PhD from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, where he joined the Department of Agricultural Engineering in 1979. In 1999 he accepted a position as an associate professor at the University of Illinois in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. His major fields of research and teaching are off-road vehicles, diesel
engines and biofuels, as well as biomass production systems. He has led three project-based study abroad programs to South Africa in the last five years.

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

Learning Outcomes Assessment of a Project-Abroad Program in South Africa: Toward “A Better Engineer in the Real World”

Key words: “project-based learning,” “international,” “assessment”


The quotation in the title of this paper is a student’s statement about the future impact of his project-abroad experience in South Africa. Indeed, study-abroad and project-abroad experiences are increasingly viewed as important for engineering students’ careers. Assessing the student learning outcomes of such programs can benefit (a) the students, as they engage in self-reflection and communication about their experience, (b) the study-abroad program itself, for continual improvement, and (c) the engineering education community at large, as it seeks effective methods and models for preparing engineers for their work. To this end, we gathered and analyzed student reflections on their learning experiences in a collaborative engineering project between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.


The Association of American Colleges and Universities’ LEAP (Liberal Education for America’s Promise) initiative (2007) emphasizes global awareness and experience within its four sets of Essential Learning Outcomes that are critical for preparing university students for the twenty-first century. The “personal and social responsibility” domain includes:

• Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global • Intercultural knowledge and competence • Ethical reasoning and action • Foundations and skills for lifelong learning … through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges1

Engineering education professional organizations and experts echo these themes in descriptions of high-quality engineers of the twenty-first century. ABET requires accredited programs to provide “the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context” (criterion h). The National Academy of Engineering also prioritizes the global dimension: “We aspire to a future where engineers are prepared to adapt to changes in global forces and trends and to ethically assist the world in creating a balance in the standard of living for developing and developed countries alike.” The NAE further highlights the importance of communication skills and teamwork for the global context: “In the new century the parties that engineering ties together will increasingly involve interdisciplinary teams, globally diverse team members, public officials, and a global customer base.”2

Similar points are made in influential volumes such as Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field,3 and Educating the Engineer of 2020.4 Redish and Smith also consider

Hahn, L., & Hansen, A. (2009, June), Learning Outcomes Assessment Of A Project Abroad Program In South Africa: Toward "A Better Engineer In The Real World" Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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