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Structural Assessment To Support Engineering Education

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.513.1 - 3.513.14

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Paper Authors

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Alex Kirlik

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Jennifer Turns

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

Session 2630

Structural Assessment to Support Engineering Education

Jennifer Turns, Alex Kirlik Georgia Institute of Technology

Abstract: The ABET 2000 changes in accreditation standards of engineering programs will soon make it necessary for engineering programs to demonstrate that their students have the knowledge and abilities necessary for performing professional engineering activities. Structural Assessment, a method for assessing students knowledge of the relationships among concepts, methodologies, and problems in a domain, may represent a valuable assessment resource. Past research shows that this assessment methodology can be valuable, but does not focus on how to make the methodology feasible for classroom use. In this paper, we describe how we created a suit of tools that support structural knowledge assessment for classroom use and a pilot evaluation of these tools that demonstrates the feasibility of such a method.


Assessment, in the context of education, is the process of measuring what a student knows [1]. The reasons to perform assessment can be quite varied. Such reasons include a need or desire to: (1) determine whether students have learned the material that is being taught, (2) determine whether students have mastered knowledge that is a prerequisite for a class, (3) diagnose why a student is having difficulty in a class, (4) direct students attention at a particular facet of the material to be learned, and (5) trace students development of knowledge and abilities over time. At a school level, the new ABET 2000 accreditation standards will soon make it necessary for schools to be able to demonstrate what students have learned (outcomes based assessment) rather than simply demonstrating that they are teaching an acceptable complement of courses. This has created a need to develop strategies, and possibly even new assessment instruments, for assessing engineering students knowledge and abilities as they move through the curriculum.

Assessment is, and has always been, very difficult. Some of the difficulties associated with assessment include the following. • Deciding what to assess: Within engineering it can be difficult to determine what exactly students should be accountable for knowing and being able to do. For example, in an engineering design class, do we want to assess students’ knowledge of the steps of a particular method, their ability to evaluate how well a method was applied, their ability to execute the method, and/or their ability to integrate the results of the method into an emerging designed artifact. • Deciding how to assess: Given an assessment goal, another problem is developing an instrument that is capable of capturing levels of knowledge relative to the goal. A frequent problem with assessment is having, at hand, assessment instruments that can support the instructor with his/her goals and can be easily adapted to his/her situation. Ongoing debates explore the relative merits of standard testing procedures, authentic performance based assessments, and alternative assessments such as the use of concepts maps. • Designing and Executing the Assessment: Designing and executing an assessment, even when the basic goals and methods have been identified, is typically very time consuming. Anyone who has ever made up a set of test questions and then graded students responses is aware of this phenomenon.

Kirlik, A., & Turns, J. (1998, June), Structural Assessment To Support Engineering Education Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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