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  1. 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. 
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  2. When instructors change their classroom practices —shifting from lecture to active learning for example—there is a direct impact on student learning that is relatively straightforward to measure. However, every course is also part a curriculum that is developed by the faculty, often in line with a college or university’s present vision, and shaped by national values and policies surrounding engineering education and higher education. These factors have indirect but equally significant impacts on student learning, and constitute the larger ecosystem in which student learning takes place. These indirect effects are more difficult, and likely impossible, to fully understand. If the higher education system in the United States was more centrally governed by an educational ministry, as is found in Europe and elsewhere, it might be easier to understand and control the impact of these indirect factors. However, the highly decentralized system of educational governance within the U.S., and the great diversity of schools that are both the product and reasons for this ecosystem, have given rise to an extremely heterogeneous system. In the United States accreditation serves as one of the few, central mechanisms for shaping learning; it carries the weight of the state to the extent that it contributes to job and federal loan availability as well as licensure in selected fields. This paper examines the historic and presentday impact of accreditation on engineering education in the United States. 
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  3. This work-in-progress paper presents preliminary findings on how the education of engineering ethics is justified by academic administrators and policymakers drawing from the data collected in a multi-institutional project called “The Distributed System of Governance in Engineering Education”. The project seeks to understand the practice of engineering education reform using ethnomethodological data collected from oral interviews at a variety of academic institutions and other organizations in engineering education. Investigations of effective strategies for ethical formation of engineering students have been continuously pursued in the engineering education community. Review of the literature on this topic results in not only identifying diverse approaches and conceptions of engineering ethics, but also a set of diverse rationales and contexts of justification for development and implementation of programs on engineering ethics. The students’ attitude towards ethical development is shaped by how the subject is delivered, e.g., use of “best practices” or conceptual clarity in the notion of ethics offered to them, as well as why it is taught. Institutions send a signal to students, even if they do not intend to, about the importance of ethics in the engineering profession by how and why they address this matter. The initial analysis of interview data from over a hundred subjects from more than twenty universities demonstrates diverse ways of justifying ethics education such as satisfying ABET accreditation requirements or complying with recommendations of the disciplinary professional association (e.g., ASME or ASCE). Identifying a resistance to notions such as judgment, and in general, a disregard for engineering ethics in conversations on governance and educational decision-making are other preliminary findings of this work. 
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  4. In this research paper, we analyze “diversity” discourses among faculty and administrators in engineering programs across the Unites States, and the initiatives deployed in the name of diversity. The recruitment and retention of women and “minorities” is a task of paramount importance in engineering programs, and higher education in general. However, despite continued efforts to diversify the student body, women and minorities have remained underrepresented in engineering departments. The rationale for increasing diversity in engineering education can vary, from industry arguments about “filling pipelines” for the labor force, to social justice arguments that everyone should have an equal opportunity for success, to cognitive diversity arguments that problems are solved more efficiently with diverse viewpoints. Furthermore, there is significant variation across institutions regarding who is prioritized under the “diversity” umbrella – some highlight women in general, others African American, Hispanic and Lantinx men and women, others target students of low socioeconomic status (SES). Finally, initiatives to address diversity also vary widely, from scholarship programs, to extracurricular activities, to integration of the needs and interests of excluded groups into coursework. This paper draws upon data collected as part of a multi-institutional research study entitled “The Distributed System of Governance in Engineering Education.” We use methods of discourse analysis to study how the term “diversity” is leveraged in different contexts to enact certain methods of recruitment and retention of particular populations. 
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  5. This work-in-progress paper presents preliminary findings on how teaching engineering ethics is justified by academic administrators and policymakers, drawing from data collected in a multi-institution collaborative project called “The Distributed System of Governance in Engineering Education”. The project seeks to understand the practice of engineering education reform using data collected from a larger number of oral interviews at a variety of academic institutions and other organizations in engineering education. Investigations of effective strategies for the ethical development of engineering students have been pursued extensively in engineering education research. Canvassing this literature reveals not only diverse approaches and conceptions of engineering ethics, but also a diverse set of rationales and contexts for justifying the development and implementation of engineering ethics coursework and programs. It is also evident that the students’ ethical development is shaped by how the subject is delivered, e.g., the use of case studies or “best practices”, as well as the underlying reasons given to them about why ethics is taught. Institutions send signals to their students, even without intending to, about the importance of engineering ethics to their professional identity through their choice in how and why they address this matter. Our initial analysis of interview data from over a hundred subjects from more than twenty universities demonstrates the diverse ways in which ethics education is justified. The most common reason offered are satisfying ABET accreditation requirements and complying with the recommendations of a disciplinary professional association (e.g., ASME or ASCE). Resistance to notions such as professional judgment, and the absence of any substantial reference to engineering ethics in general conversations about educational decision making and governance are other initial findings from our work. 
    more » « less
  6. 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”). 
    more » « less
  7. This work-in-progress paper draws from the ongoing “The Distributed System of Governance in Engineering Education” project’s qualitative dataset. The Governance project uses an ethnomethodological approach to understand the practice of engineering education reform. The dataset contains oral interview data from both academic institutions and organizations with roles in engineering education governance such as ABET. The academic institutions in the study are representative of the range of engineering schools in US—research intensive, predominately undergraduate, private, public, MSI, etc.—and interview subjects span the administrative spectrum from faculty to department chairs to provosts. This work-in-progress uses this data set to probe two research questions: 1) To what extent, and how, do academic administrators and policy makers in higher education draw on insights from engineering education research (EER) in deriving policies and making decisions? 2) To what extent do the issues and challenges articulated by administrators match those articulated or identified by EER community? The initial analysis of interview data from over seventy subjects from fifteen universities was done from a symbolic interactionism perspective. Initial findings are that university administrators are generally not aware of engineering education and the engineering education research body of knowledge is not generally used in day-to-day decision making. This may be due to the fact the concerns expressed by administrators are often misaligned with EER priorities. The authors seek feedback on how to better understanding “invisible channels” through which EER findings may find their way into administrative decisions as well as other means by which EER influences governance processes other than through established administrative channels. 
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  8. This work-in-progress paper draws from the ongoing “The Distributed System of Governance in Engineering Education” project’s qualitative dataset. The Governance project uses an ethnomethodological approach to understand the practice of engineering education reform. The dataset contains oral interview data from both academic institutions and organizations with roles in engineering education governance such as ABET. The academic institutions in the study are representative of the range of engineering schools in US—research intensive, predominately undergraduate, private, public, MSI, etc.—and interview subjects span the administrative spectrum from faculty to department chairs to provosts. This work-in-progress uses this data set to probe two research questions: 1) To what extent, and how, do academic administrators and policy makers in higher education draw on insights from engineering education research (EER) in deriving policies and making decisions? 2) To what extent do the issues and challenges articulated by administrators match those articulated or identified by EER community? The initial analysis of interview data from over seventy subjects from fifteen universities was done from a symbolic interactionism perspective. Initial findings are that university administrators are generally not aware of engineering education and the engineering education research body of knowledge is not generally used in day-to-day decision making. This may be due to the fact the concerns expressed by administrators are often misaligned with EER priorities. The authors seek feedback on how to better understanding “invisible channels” through which EER findings may find their way into administrative decisions as well as other means by which EER influences governance processes other than through established administrative channels. 
    more » « less
  9. In this research paper, we analyze “diversity” discourses among faculty and administrators in engineering programs across the Unites States, and the initiatives deployed in the name of diversity. The recruitment and retention of women and “minorities” is a task of paramount importance in engineering programs, and higher education in general. However, despite continued efforts to diversify the student body, women and minorities have remained underrepresented in engineering departments. The rationale for increasing diversity in engineering education can vary, from industry arguments about “filling pipelines” for the labor force, to social justice arguments that everyone should have an equal opportunity for success, to cognitive diversity arguments that problems are solved more efficiently with diverse viewpoints. Furthermore, there is significant variation across institutions regarding who is prioritized under the “diversity” umbrella – some highlight women in general, others African American, Hispanic and Lantinx men and women, others target students of low socioeconomic status (SES). Finally, initiatives to address diversity also vary widely, from scholarship programs, to extracurricular activities, to integration of the needs and interests of excluded groups into coursework. This paper draws upon data collected as part of a multi-institutional research study entitled “The Distributed System of Governance in Engineering Education.” We use methods of discourse analysis to study how the term “diversity” is leveraged in different contexts to enact certain methods of recruitment and retention of particular populations. 
    more » « less
  10. Unlike medicine, the engineering profession establishes new standards for engineering education through a distributed system of governance that mirrors the distributed structure of the profession. In this paper, we present our preliminary findings resulting from early data collected through an NSF-sponsored study of this system. This qualitative study is multi-site and multiscale in its design, and will eventually draw on interviews with faculty and administrators, at different rank, from at least two-dozen different colleges and universities as well as engineering professional organizations. Our interview data is complemented by content analysis of archival documents and published studies, reports, and statements. This paper is designed to introduce our research questions and begin a conversation among engineering educators about how we govern our own educational system. The trends and observations noted in this paper are abstracted from our earliest results, and are described only in general terms. Future papers will explore each of our research questions more fully, taking into account more detailed data. 
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