ABET Accreditation: Capturing Evidence of Skill Development

Engineering programs at US colleges and universities keep the ABET accreditation criteria in mind when developing new course content, but the critical piece is the current curriculum.  A challenging aspect of the ABET accreditation process is capturing evidence that students are not just passing tests, but developing engineering skill through their course work.  What constitutes evidence of assimilation and application of engineering knowledge and best practices?

Looks good, but needs context to be really clear.

One of my colleagues was the associate dean responsible for the accreditation process at his university.  We had a chance to talk about the accreditation process, and what kind of toll it takes on an academic institution.  The one point that came up over and over was that being able to prove that students were not just achieving good grades, but also demonstrating those skills added immense amounts of stress.  Worrying that you could not get accredited because you couldn’t prove something is bad, but when it is your entire purpose for being, that worry can be crippling.  So why does Mathcad help you prove to the accreditation board that you are moving in the right direction?

Using Mathcad allows you to not change a single thing about your curriculum, while proving that students are developing engineering skills, and learning a modern engineering tool.  Students can, in their own words, explain what they did and how they did it in both technical and laymen’s terms.  They can show the mathematics that back

A lab report or homework assignment? Maybe your notes from class…

up their conclusions and the data used to create the analysis.  Since Mathcad allows for flexibility the work provided will be unique to the student, exposing their process and the ability to apply knowledge while leveraging the power of an engineering tool used in industry.

Both Engineering and Engineering Technology programs have to keep moving, constantly improving, and updating their facilities and practices.  Sometimes that pace of constant improvement distracts from the true purpose of teaching people engineering.  How nice would it be to have a tool that can facilitate learning, but also support the ABET accreditation process?

The first Student outcome criteria for Engineering and Engineering Technology required by the ABET accreditation process are:

  • an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering
  • an ability to apply the knowledge, techniques, skills, and modern tools of the discipline to narrowly defined engineering technology activities;

If you are a person who has worked to train people, or are currently teaching, you will know that applied knowledge is a thing of beauty.  In other words, there is a qualitative element to the process of taking an abstract concept and applying it to solve a problem. There is a great feeling of accomplishment for both students and professors – but feelings are as difficult to measure.  Affirmation is important to the development of a professional identity, but does not help with accreditation.

Start simple.

Professors that use Mathcad in their classes do so because there is almost no reason why a student cannot transition from concept to comprehension.  Mathcad supports different kinds of learning, and because the document is dynamic students are free to experiment and think about how something could be solved.

Industry people call that Concept Design.  Companies have to document their design decisions for future employees to understand, but academia needs to document that same process to prove that they can understand.  Frankly it is one of the hardest things to prove.  Other companies have certifications, tests, or some other measuring sticks that prove you know where certain buttons are as an individual, but that doesn’t help them with accreditation.  Mathcad can by doing what it does best: Allow the creative process to be documented and shared transparently.

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