Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience

Lobmann, Jack

An EC 2000 veteran shares his thoughts on a review process he found demanding but worthwhile.

There was a time when many of us would have had to stop and think for a moment if asked when our next ABET visit was due. Since the implementation of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology’s Engineering Criteria 2000, everyone now seems to know without hesitation-and to be asking everyone else: “What are you doing to get prepared?”

We no longer need to ask that question at Georgia Tech. As one of five engineering colleges piloting Engineering Criteria 2000, we participated in an ABET review last fall. Now that I’m a veteran of the new accreditation system and its outcomes-based assessment requirement, I would like to share some observations about the experience as well as make some suggestions about how to prepare for Engineering Criteria 2000.

Observations

First, I am pleased to report that the new accreditation process is less adversarial than the former one. During a spring workshop for some of the pilot colleges, ABET set a very positive tone about the process. The opportunity to interact with evaluators at this workshop proved reassuring and very helpful, as did the continued interaction that led to the actual visit. Establishing a dialogue between the visiting team and the college prior to the visit benefits all parties.

Second, preparing the documentation was not as onerous a task as anticipated. It’s true EC 2000 gives us greater latitude in how we present information, which in turn requires considerable effort on our part to decide what data to present and how to present it; nevertheless, the overall endeavor was no more time-consuming than before, and in some ways, even less so. For example, schools now can present the ponderous, old “Volume I” as a concise appendix to the program self-studies, which themselves need not be that lengthy.

Third, demonstrating that we had assessment processes in place was not especially difficult, particularly because at Georgia Tech we began to address assessment issues as early as 1992. Demonstrating that we used the assessment results to change the curriculum, however, was not so easy. Changes in academic programs are sometimes the result of information received from different sources, and over a period of time; linking those changes back through an archival “paper trail” was difficult at times. Demonstrating that one has “closed the loop” between assessment results and curricular change is a worthy goal, but it is not necessarily a straightforward process. This is one area that calls for additional thought on everyone’s part.

Suggestions

I have three suggestions for those preparing for their first EC 2000 visit.

1. Examine your school’s current assessment mechanisms, and adapt them to EC 2000. 1 hear a lot of discussion at regional and national meetings about how to establish assessment measures, but at Georgia Tech we decided to focus on improving our existing procedures. We had long been surveying alumni, employers, faculty, and students; conducting exit interviews of graduating students; seeking input from advisory committees; and benchmarking against peer institutions on a variety of measures. These assessment measures fit quite well into EC 2000.

2. Get to know your key constituents and your key academic competition. We defined our key constituents as our students, employers, faculty members, and alumni. We also identified the 12 engineering colleges that are our top competitors as well as the chief competitor for each of our discipline-specific schools. Now we regularly survey our constituents and benchmark against our competitors.

3. Start collecting data now. Don’t worry about having “the perfect” assessment measure. Every assessment measure has some flaw. So just get started. Looking at the information generated by a number of measures, over time, will provide useful insight.

Like it or not, assessment is here to stay. Indeed, at Georgia Tech we are now embarking on assessing our graduate programs. Assessment does take time and effort, but the results can be worthwhile.

Jack Lohmann is associate dean for academic affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Copyright American Society for Engineering Education May/Jun 1998

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