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Validating Content of a Sustainable Design Rubric Using Established Frameworks

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: The Role of Engineering Education towards Attaining UN Sustainable Development Goals

Tagged Divisions

Minorities in Engineering, Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Civil Engineering, and Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors

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Charles Cowan James Madison University


Elise Barrella P.E. James Madison University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Elise Barrella is an Assistant Professor and Founding Faculty Member of the Department of Engineering at Wake Forest University. She is passionate about curriculum development, scholarship and student mentoring on transportation systems, sustainability, and engineering design. Dr. Barrella completed her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Georgia Tech where she conducted research in transportation and sustainability as part of the Infrastructure Research Group (IRG). In addition to the Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, Dr. Barrella holds a Master of City and Regional Planning (Transportation) from Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University. Dr. Barrella has investigated best practices in engineering education since 2003 (at Bucknell University) and began collaborating on sustainable engineering design research while at Georgia Tech. Prior to joining the WFU faculty, she led the junior capstone design sequence at James Madison University, was the inaugural director of the NAE Grand Challenges Program at JMU, and developed first-year coursework.

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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 at The Citadel, Dr. Watson earned her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology. She also has BS and MS degrees in Biosystems Engineering from Clemson University. Dr. Watson’s research interests are in the areas of engineering education and biological waste treatment.

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Robin Anderson James Madison University

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Robin D. Anderson serves as the Academic Unit Head for the Department of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University. She holds a doctorate in Assessment and Measurement. She previously served as the Associate Director of the Center for Assessment and Research Studies at JMU. Her areas of research include assessment practice and engineering education research.

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Because engineers are increasingly called upon to develop sustainable solutions, it has become imperative to adapt engineering education to equip students with the knowledge and skills to engage in sustainable design. Recognizing the potential benefits of sustainable engineering, as identified by an international community, many organizations, including ABET, the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES), and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) advocate for curricular reforms. Successful educational reform efforts require effective methods for assessing student sustainable design abilities. One approach for both stimulating student learning and facilitating assessment is the use of rubrics. Rubrics can be used by instructors to evaluate the quality of student work, but can also be used prior to assignments to help students learn about different dimensions of sustainability, establish expectations for sustainable design, and self-assess how well principles were applied to design projects.

The goal of this project is to develop and validate a sustainable design rubric that can be easily adapted and applied across engineering disciplines or for interdisciplinary problem-solving. A sustainable design rubric was previously developed based on the Nine Principles of Sustainable Engineering for application in civil and environmental engineering (CEE) courses, and was recently updated through systematic literature review to reflect a broader set of evaluation criteria. The rubric’s constructs of sustainable design and their measures are being validated in three phases consistent with the Benson model of construct validity.

This paper will focus on efforts to iteratively validate the new rubric’s content by benchmarking the criteria against well-established sustainable development and design frameworks, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, STAUNCH© (Sustainability Tool for Auditing for University Curricula in Higher-Education), and the Envision™ Infrastructure Rating System. These three frameworks contain global, program/curriculum-level, and project-level criteria applicable to engineering challenges, respectively. The iterative validation confirmed the importance of many rubric criteria, but also revealed opportunities to add or refine criteria that were not adequately represented in the rubric. In addition, iterative validation supported potential removal or consolidation of criteria that did not seem to be broadly applicable to sustainability or across disciplines. Since the sustainable design rubric is intended for undergraduate student projects, there were also categories within the frameworks deemed inappropriate for student-level projects. This paper reviews the validation process and results and presents changes to the draft rubric criteria, which will undergo further validation from an expert panel of engineering educators prior to testing on multiple student design projects.

Cowan, C., & Barrella, E., & Watson, M. K., & Anderson, R. (2017, June), Validating Content of a Sustainable Design Rubric Using Established Frameworks Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29101

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