Monday, January 17, 2011

Quanser Curriculum Helps Assess Students' Knowledge and Skills

Educational institutions and programs around the globe undergo accreditation process to demonstrate they can meet standards set for higher education by their governments or professional organizations.

ABET Accreditation
In the United States, accreditation is a peer-review process, independent of government and coordinated by accreditation commissions and member institutions. One of the most respected organizations specializing in accreditation of educational programs in applied science, computing, science and technology is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology - ABET.

Focused on Learnig Outcomes
In the past, ABET’s criteria for accreditation outlined the major elements that engineering programs must have, such as program curricula, faculty type and facilities. However, in the last decade the focus shifted away from the inputs - what material is taught, to the outputs - what students learned. This approach encourages innovation in engineering programs and program improvements rather than forcing all programs to follow the same standard.

If your course is part of the ABET or a similar engineering program assessment, you most likely need to evaluate students' ability to:
- apply knowledge of math, science and engineering
- design and conduct experiments, and analyze and interpret data
- communicate effectively
- use techniques, skills and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice

Student Outcome Assessment Embedded in the Course Curriculum
To help educators with assessment of their course, Quanser teamed with Dr. Hakan Gurocak from the Washington State University in Vancouver, USA to rewrite the instructor manual for the Rotary Position and Rate Control Servo (SRV02), one of Quanser's most popular teaching systems used in engineering labs worldwide. The goal was to embed student outcome assessment in the curriculum and provide professors with a simple framework and set of templates that allow them to measure and document students' achievments of various performance criteria.

Assessing Students' Knowledge
For example, every chapter of the laboratory workbook includes Pre-Lab Questions section, that examines understanding of theoretical background and preliminary calculations relevant to the in-lab experiments. These pre-lab questions require students to apply math, engineering and science knowledge through calculations and problem solving strategies (i.e. Student Outcomes criteria A as defined by ABET). If pre-lab questions are assigned as homework, the results can be easily assessed using scoring sheets and scoring criteria that are provided in the workbook.

Assessing Students' Skills
The Lab Experiments section of the laboratory workbook provides step-by-step instructions to conduct lab experiments and record collected data. The experiments require students to design and conduct experiments, analyze and interpret data and use various techniques, skills and modern engineering tools, corresponding to the applied part of engineering and mapping Students Outcomes criteria B and K as defined by ABET. As a part of lab work, students are asked to prepare a report and describe used procedures and achieved results, analyse these results and draw conclusions. Lab reports demonstrate level of achieved effective communication skills, i.e. correspond to the Student Outcomes criteria G as defined by ABET. Again, laboratory workbook provides scoring sheets and scoring criteria so that the outcomes can be easily assessed and documented.

Outcome of the Course
Once all pre-lab and lab work is assessed, it is easy to get the overall outcome of the course. Assessment Workbook, developed by Quanser using Microsoft Excel takes all scores and assembles them into a single score for each Student Outcomes criteria assessed during the course. This Assessment Workbook has no automatic features and allows user to customize it in any way.

For a sample of ABET-aligned rotary servo curriculum, please contact Quanser at

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