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We Assess What We Value: "Evidence-based" Logic and the Abandonment of "Non-Assessable" Learning Outcomes

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Trends in Accreditation and Assessment

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Donna M. Riley Virginia Tech

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Donna Riley is Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech.

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This paper seeks to analyze the recent proposed changes to ABET’s baccalaureate-level programs accreditation General Criteria 3 (Student Outcomes) and 5 (Curriculum) in light of two problematic ideologies at work in engineering education: an over-reliance on Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) and an emphasis on “evidence-based” research and practice, where “evidence” is narrowly defined following the medical model of randomized controlled trials (RCTs), nearly impossible to execute validly in educational settings. The changes remove or weaken requirements for educational breadth, including global and social context, engineering ethics, and lifelong learning.

One of the stated rationales for these changes is that some outcomes are difficult to assess. To the contrary, the engineering education community has invested a great deal of time and effort innovating assessment methods to create increasingly valid, concise, and easy to implement tools for exactly this purpose. This reveals not only a “research to practice” gap in which ABET leadership may not be aware of these advancements, but also an epistemic gap where “evidence-based” logic has all but eliminated some of the most effective tools we have in educational assessment.

This immediate crisis is brought on by our own commitment to Outcomes-Based Education. It is this obsession that leads to the logic under which, even if student outcomes were difficult to assess, that this would somehow constitute grounds for their elimination. Ultimately, we assess what we value; and we have come to value measurability of outcomes over student learning. We ask “what works” rather than what is appropriate for engineers to learn entering the profession in the 21st century.

This paper calls for members of the Liberal Education/Engineering and Society Division to recount our history as advocates for educational breadth, and redouble our efforts for the long haul. The Division is well positioned to serve as a clearinghouse of information with convening power for building coalitions across ASEE Divisions and even across professional societies comprising ABET’s membership, to rebuild consensus around the vision of a broadly educated engineer in 2020 and beyond.

Riley, D. M. (2016, June), We Assess What We Value: "Evidence-based" Logic and the Abandonment of "Non-Assessable" Learning Outcomes Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27187

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