In July 2013 Lawrence Technological University and its College of Engineering, hosted eight faculty members from Shanghai University of Engineering and Science (SUES). While it is not unusual for educators from China to visit the campus to study the latest teaching methods practiced in the United States, this time the mission was to learn the fundamental requirements for ABET accreditation.
The SUES administration determined that to distinguish itself among engineering programs it might be beneficial to obtain accreditation from ABET, the principal accrediting body for engineering programs in the United States. Relying on the long and trusted relationship developed with Lawrence Tech, SUES representatives contacted Provost Maria Vaz for her thoughts on how to proceed. “We are so happy that our partnership with Shanghai University of Engineering and Science continues to develop in so many ways,” Vaz said.
She asked the College of Engineering to create a team to develop and conduct a two-week workshop that would cover all aspects of ABET requirements, while also addressing various assessment issues. The team consisted of four accreditation veterans with significant assessment and ABET experience: Associate Professor Chris Riedel, assistant chair of the A. Leon Linton Department of Mechanical Engineering, who is the ABET coordinator for mechanical engineering and a past member of the University Assessment Committee; Civil Engineering Professor Don Carpenter, who served as the University Director of Assessment for several years; Phil Olivier, the chair of Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and an experienced ABET evaluator; and Civil Engineering Assistant Professor John Tocco, the workshop chair who serves on the University Assessment Committee and has presented at assessment conferences.
The team covered numerous ABET and assessment topics. For example, Carpenter explained the various types of learning objectives and the outcomes/objectives mapping process. Tocco discussed the importance of an industry advisory board in the creation and enhancing of curriculum. Riedel reviewed the ABET student outcomes and how they applied to engineering programs. Olivier addressed the important elements of ABET criteria, and what a program can expect from an ABET evaluation visit.
To enhance the learning experience and fully engage the participants, the workshop team utilized various pedagogical elements. For example, the participants were provided binders that included copies of all the presentations and also various examples of assessment documents and templates they could adapt to their own use. To assist with the sharing of information, the Help Desk collaborated with the team to create a Blackboard site for the participants to access and share workshop content and for the participants to use to upload their homework assignments.
The team members demonstrated that they took the term “workshop” seriously by requiring the participants to do more than just sit and listen to lectures. Several assignments involved the participants discussing assessment concepts in small groups, completing their tasks that evening, then reporting out to the entire group the next day. Both team members and participants would discuss and comment on the results of the assignments, creating a positive atmosphere of active/collaborative learning.
Riedel echoed the perspective of the members of the workshop team when he commented on the importance of the concepts discussed. “The SUES faculty was very receptive to learning about assessment and posed many good questions. Through understanding the ABET criteria and how Lawrence Tech’s engineering curriculum complies with ABET requirements, the SUES faculty can begin to examine their programs and processes and develop their assessment plan for accreditation.”
Not unexpectedly, the major challenge for the workshop team was the language barrier, especially with the nuanced and specialized assessment terminology necessary for the participants to understand the accreditation process. Although a couple of the SUES faculty possessed a working knowledge of English, the complex concepts made communication difficult. Leslie Wang, a student intern in the Office of the Dean of Students, provided tremendous support to the team and the participants. She created posters of Chinese characters with frequently used assessment and ABET terms, she interpreted questions and answers, and generally facilitated the interaction between the workshop team and the participants.
Irrespective of the language barrier, Carpenter found the experience rewarding and the participants fully engaged. “The SUES faculty were eager to learn and made good students,” he said. “Overall, they grasped the ABET process, and we had interesting discussions about course and curriculum expectations in China and how they differ from the US.”
It wasn’t all hard work and homework for the SUES faculty, however, as they enjoyed a few decidedly American pastimes, such as gift shopping at the Great Lakes Crossing Outlet in Auburn Hills, rooting for the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, and experiencing a bit of American history when they toured Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.
“The opportunity to educate our Chinese guests on ABET accreditation is just an example of the trust that SUES puts on the partnership with Lawrence Tech,”Vaz said. “I am proud of the College of Engineering workshop team that represented Lawrence Tech in such a professional manner.”