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  1. This paper reflects on the significance of ABET’s “maverick evaluators” and what it says about the limits of accreditation as a mode of governance in US engineering education. The US system of engineering education operates as a highly complex system, where the diversity of the system is an asset to robust knowledge production and the production of a varied workforce. ABET Inc., the principal accreditation agency for engineering degree programs in the US, attempts to uphold a set of professional standards for engineering education using a voluntary, peer-based system of evaluation. Key to their approach is a volunteer army of trained program evaluators (PEVs) assigned by the engineering professional societies, who serve as the frontline workers responsible for auditing the content, learning outcomes, and continuous improvement processes utilized by every engineering degree program accredited by ABET. We take a look specifically at those who become labeled “maverick evaluators” in order to better understand how this system functions, and to understand its limitations as a form of governance in maintaining educational quality and appropriate professional standards within engineering education. ABET was established in 1932 as the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development (ECPD). The Cold War consensus around the engineering sciences ledmore »to a more quantitative system of accreditation first implemented in 1956. However, the decline of the Cold War and rising concerns about national competitiveness prompted ABET to shift to a more neoliberal model of accountability built around outcomes assessment and modeled after total quality management / continuous process improvement (TQM/CPI) processes that nominally gave PEVs greater discretion in evaluating engineering degree programs. However, conflicts over how the PEVs exercised judgment points to conservative aspects in the structure of the ABET organization, and within the engineering profession at large. This paper and the phenomena we describe here is one part of a broader, interview-based study of higher education governance and engineering educational reform within the United States. We have conducted over 300 interviews at more than 40 different academic institutions and professional organizations, where ABET and institutional responses to the reforms associated with “EC 2000,” which brought outcomes assessment to engineering education, are extensively discussed. The phenomenon of so-called “maverick evaluators” reveal the divergent professional interests that remain embedded within ABET and the engineering profession at large. Those associated with Civil and Environmental Engineering, and to a lesser extent Mechanical Engineering continue to push for higher standards of accreditation grounded in a stronger vision for their professions. While the phenomenon is complex and more subtle than we can summarize in an abstract, “maverick evaluators” emerged as a label for PEVs who interpreted their role, including determinations about whether certain content “appropriate to the field of study,” utilizing professional standards that lay outside of the consensus position held by the majority of the member of the Engineering Accreditation Commission. This, conjoined with the engineers’ epistemic aversion to uncertainty and concerns about the legal liability of their decisions, resulted in a more narrow interpretation of key accreditation criteria. The organization then designed and used a “due-process” reviews process to discipline identified shortcomings in order to limit divergent interpretations. The net result is that the bureaucratic process ABET built to obtain uniformity in accreditation outcomes, simultaneously blunts the organization’s capacity to support varied interpretations of professional standards at the program level. The apparatus has also contributed to ABET’s reputation as an organization focused on minimum standards, as opposed to one that functions as an effective driver for further change in engineering education.« less
  2. Like many of National Academy of Engineering’s consensus studies, the 2018 Pathways report tells us what we maybe knew, but nevertheless needed to hear: students enter engineering education from diverse points of origin, and continue through to careers that are as likely beyond engineering as it is within it. However, a close reading of the report also reveals two voices. On the one hand, educators and administrators who were eager to point out that engineering can serve as rigorous preparation for a variety of subsequent occupations; and a smaller number of educators and practitioners such as NAE staff members, who in being aware of the literature on women and minorities in education, make the point that students enter engineering with diverse backgrounds and preparation, and this impacts their educational experience and eventual diversity of the career pathways they take. In this paper, we wish to present some preliminary results on student perspectives on how they navigate through their own educational transformation. What we provide is an early analysis of interview data gained from student interviews, which point to how student pathways are determined in largely interactionist terms, namely through their interactions with other students, instructors, and other staff. How studentsmore »experience, and emerge out of well-known phenomena such as imposter’s syndrome (Parkman 2016), race and gender dynamics in group work (Rosser 1998), peer study groups, family obligations and influence, and their willingness or discomfort in engaging with support services shape what choices they make about their degree program, much of which is less about a departure from the field as they are about formative decisions on how they plan to chart their career going forward.« less
  3. In this paper or poster presentation, we hope to present to and interact with our audience with respect to a key touchpoint in our national study of engineering education reform. Based on an NSF collaborative grant, our project team has conducted approximately 280 semi-structured interviews at over 40 different institutions with regards to change processes that operate within engineering education. Originally inspired by our earlier work on ABET, we framed our study around questions of governance, namely how national organizations and national conversations do and don’t shape changes in engineering education. However, our early interviews made it very clear that US engineering schools viewed themselves as participating in a competitive market, where local initiatives and innovations are as important if not more important to their student experience and institutional reputation. This said, market mechanisms and the way in which local innovations circulate (entrepreneurship, maker spaces, humanitarian engineering) are themselves a form of coordination, pointing to more subtle modes of governance that operate within engineering education. Drawing on the multi-theory framework of Austin and Jones’ for understanding Higher Education Governance (2015), we use this presentation to begin to tease apart the different modes through which change occurs within engineering education.
  4. 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 tomore »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”).« less
  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 frommore »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.« less
  6. 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.”more »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.« 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. Thismore »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.« less