Asee peer logo

What’s Wrong with Evidence? Epistemological Roots and Pedagogical Implications of “Evidence-based Practice” in STEM Education

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Integrating Engineering & Liberal Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1373.1 - 24.1373.9



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Donna M. Riley Smith College

visit author page

Donna Riley is Associate Professor and founding faculty member in the Picker Engineering Program at Smith College

visit author page

Download Paper |


What’s wrong with Evidence? Epistemological Roots and Pedagogical Implications of “Evidence-based Practice” in STEM education Education’s drive toward instrumentality is manifest in the no-child left behind regime ofK-12 education in which “rigorous” curricula are measured by how efficiently and cost-effectively information is transferred. In higher education, Massive Open Online Courses(MOOCs) are hyped as the solution to budgetary crises, taken largely as reasonable facsimiles ofwhat goes on in face to face classrooms. It is this context that informs the surge in popularity of“evidence based practice” across STEM education, with grave consequences for the field ofengineering education research and for liberal education efforts in engineering. This paper first examines the epistemological roots of evidence based practice in the fieldof medicine, where randomized controlled field trials are the sine qua non of validity and rigor.What ways of knowing are included and excluded in evidence based practice? What counts asevidence? What questions are worth asking, and what questions are out of bounds in this regime?Using recent guidance on evidence based research from the Department of Education and theNational Science Foundation, the paper will consider how the concept of evidence based practiceis being adapted for funded research, and how these values are in turn replicated in ourcommunity as we apply standards of rigor in engineering education research. The paper then takes up the pedagogical implications of the evidence based model inwhich interventions are the sole purview of teachers, in turn causing students to learn “better.”The contradictions of using this approach despite “learner centered” rhetoric lead us to a closerexamination of enacted and intended pedagogies in engineering education. A critical practicecalls out the lack of reflexivity in evidence based practice; critical practice asks only what iseffective in a classroom, not what is appropriate, or what should be learned. Those of us concerned about liberal education in engineering ought to be especially waryof evidenced based practice because it stands to affect our research epistemologies, ourpedagogies, and our critical practice.

Riley, D. M. (2014, June), What’s Wrong with Evidence? Epistemological Roots and Pedagogical Implications of “Evidence-based Practice” in STEM Education Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23306

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015