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Title: ABET & Engineering Accreditation - History, Theory, Practice: Initial Findings from a National Study on the Governance of Engineering Education
Who and by what means do we ensure that engineering education evolves to meet the ever changing needs of our society? This and other papers presented by our research team at this conference offer our initial set of findings from an NSF sponsored collaborative study on engineering education reform. Organized around the notion of higher education governance and the practice of educational reform, our open-ended study is based on conducting semi-structured interviews at over three dozen universities and engineering professional societies and organizations, along with a handful of scholars engaged in engineering education research. Organized as a multi-site, multi-scale study, our goal is to document differences in perspectives and interest the exist across organizational levels and institutions, and to describe the coordination that occurs (or fails to occur) in engineering education given the distributed structure of the engineering profession. This paper offers for all engineering educators and administrators a qualitative and retrospective analysis of ABET EC 2000 and its implementation. The paper opens with a historical background on the Engineers Council for Professional Development (ECPD) and engineering accreditation; the rise of quantitative standards during the 1950s as a result of the push to implement an engineering science curriculum appropriate to the Cold War era; EC 2000 and its call for greater emphasis on professional skill sets amidst concerns about US manufacturing productivity and national competitiveness; the development of outcomes assessment and its implementation; and the successive negotiations about assessment practice and the training of both of program evaluators and assessment coordinators for the degree programs undergoing evaluation. It was these negotiations and the evolving practice of assessment that resulted in the latest set of changes in ABET engineering accreditation criteria (“1-7” versus “a-k”). To provide an insight into the origins of EC 2000, the “Gang of Six,” consisting of a group of individuals loyal to ABET who used the pressure exerted by external organizations, along with a shared rhetoric of national competitiveness to forge a common vision organized around the expanded emphasis on professional skill sets. It was also significant that the Gang of Six was aware of the fact that the regional accreditation agencies were already contemplating a shift towards outcomes assessment; several also had a background in industrial engineering. However, this resulted in an assessment protocol for EC 2000 that remained ambiguous about whether the stated learning outcomes (Criterion 3) was something faculty had to demonstrate for all of their students, or whether EC 2000’s main emphasis was continuous improvement. When it proved difficult to demonstrate learning outcomes on the part of all students, ABET itself began to place greater emphasis on total quality management and continuous process improvement (TQM/CPI). This gave institutions an opening to begin using increasingly limited and proximate measures for the “a-k” student outcomes as evidence of effort and improvement. In what social scientific terms would be described as “tactical” resistance to perceived oppressive structures, this enabled ABET coordinators and the faculty in charge of degree programs, many of whom had their own internal improvement processes, to begin referring to the a-k criteria as “difficult to achieve” and “ambiguous,” which they sometimes were. Inconsistencies in evaluation outcomes enabled those most discontented with the a-k student outcomes to use ABET’s own organizational processes to drive the latest revisions to EAC accreditation criteria, although the organization’s own process for member and stakeholder input ultimately restored much of the professional skill sets found in the original EC 2000 criteria. Other refinements were also made to the standard, including a new emphasis on diversity. This said, many within our interview population believe that EC 2000 had already achieved much of the changes it set out to achieve, especially with regards to broader professional skills such as communication, teamwork, and design. Regular faculty review of curricula is now also a more routine part of the engineering education landscape. While programs vary in their engagement with ABET, there are many who are skeptical about whether the new criteria will produce further improvements to their programs, with many arguing that their own internal processes are now the primary drivers for change.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1818454
NSF-PAR ID:
10106685
Author(s) / Creator(s):
Date Published:
Journal Name:
ASEE Annual Conference proceedings
Volume:
126
ISSN:
1524-4644
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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