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The Engineering Epic Finale – An Authentic Alternative Assessment Method for Final Exams

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Assessment in Multidisciplinary Learning Environment

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Paper Authors


Sara A. Atwood Elizabethtown College

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Dr. Sara A. Atwood is the Dean of the School of Engineering, Math, and Computer Science and Associate Professor of Engineering at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. She holds a BA and MS in Engineering Sciences from Dartmouth College, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Atwood’s research interests are in engineering and the liberal arts, first-generation and low-income students, internship experiences, and alternative assessment techniques including mastery-based course structures.

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Brenda Read-Daily Elizabethtown College

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Dr. Brenda Read-Daily is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. She holds a BS in Civil Engineering from Bradley University, and a MS and PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

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Jean Carlos Batista Abreu Elizabethtown College Orcid 16x16

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Jean Batista Abreu earned his Ph.D. and M.S.E. at the Johns Hopkins University, M.S. at the University of Puerto Rico, and B.S.E. with Honors at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, all in Civil Engineering. Prior to joining Elizabethtown College in 2018, he served as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Civil Engineering, and worked as a Structural Engineer.
Dr. Batista’s research focuses on understanding the response of metal structures under extreme conditions, such as elevated temperatures during a fire, or lateral loads due to wind. He uses experimental work and computational models to evaluate structures and subsequently develop analysis-based design recommendations and methods.

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Inspired by an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2015 titled “Final Exams or Epic Finales” (, three instructors of middle-level multidisciplinary engineering courses at a small, private, regional liberal arts college replaced their traditional final exams with self-described “epic finales” or “final celebrations of learning.” We seek to share our experiences from several years of implementation as many in the engineering education community consider alternative final exam approaches given the shift to online finals at many institutions due to COVID-19.

We have implemented epic finales in Strength of Materials, Thermodynamics, Introduction to Environmental Engineering, and Civil Engineering Materials. Our experiences include in-person and virtual implementation. In the paper, we will share our exercises, details of the semi-structured time block used, our grading approaches and rubrics, student and instructor reactions, challenges and opportunities identified, and guidance on the circumstances under which we recommend using this approach.

Of note, student feedback indicating that students felt ‘like a real engineer’ and thought they would remember this exercise far better and for far longer than wiping their mind of the cramming before a typical exam. While the level of technical analysis during the exercise did not rise to the level of a typical final exam, in all courses, students had been tested on most of the content during partial exams. Instead, students had to display a higher level of ‘real world’ skills including problem-solving on an open-ended question, researching a new topic, synthesizing course content, modeling and making tractable a complex problem, self-regulated organization and group management, coordination and communication between groups of students, prioritization of which information they needed to solve the problem, and considerable time constraint.

Our intention with this paper is provide instructors with our lessons learned over several years of implementation and the guidance to implement a practical, creative, and fun alternative 'epic finale’, under COVID circumstances and beyond.

Atwood, S. A., & Read-Daily, B., & Batista Abreu, J. C. (2021, July), The Engineering Epic Finale – An Authentic Alternative Assessment Method for Final Exams Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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