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Spring 2018

Letter From The Chair

Two words that are often used interchangeably in education are assessment and evaluation. Similarities and differences between these two processes are illustrated in this article.

Both are anchored in sound measurement of performance, and both are valuable processes, but each has a different purpose. This column is good place to share my operational understanding of assessment and evaluation in the context of engineering education. I invite you to share thoughts and experiences with assessment and evaluation in your workplace as this could be great material for feature in a future newsletter.

Role of Assessment

The focus of assessment is continuous improvement, providing feedback about current performance so that future performance can be enhanced. It is ideally a dynamic interaction between the performer being assessed and the party serving as the assessor. This begins with shared understanding of the criteria that define high quality performance, includes relevant data collection/analysis, a timely report of findings and action planning that leverages time spent on assessment for growth in knowledge/professional skills/accomplishments. Here are several best practices for assessment that are active within our program.

Mid-Term Assessment: A number of faculty conduct mid-semester surveys, typically after the first exam. These surveys query student preparation and success, analyze aspects of the exam that were easy as well as particularly challenging, identify what class activities have been most beneficial in promoting learning, suggest changes in class activities would promote more robust learning, and explore what personal changes students need to make to get the most out of the course. Results of these surveys are summarized and played back to students along with intentions to sustain value-added practices and begin experimentation with alternative instructional strategies. This assessment exercise builds trust as well as shared commitment between faculty and students.

Peer Mentoring: Supplemental instruction and advisement is a distinctive feature within our design stem from the freshman to the senior level (ME 123, ME 223, ME 301, ME 424 and ME 426). Undergraduate and graduate student peers who have excelled in course content/tools but who are also interested in helping other students elevate their knowledge/skills are involved in this enterprise. Significant personal growth of mentors and mentees results from our unique learning environment.

Student Outcome Monitoring: Specific courses within our program are used to gather data about development of explicit student outcomes about knowledge, skills and professional perspectives prescribed by our accreditation organization (ABET). Intentionally, these are integrated in normal class activities and designed to add value to particular classes. All findings are reviewed by the department ABET committee and key discussion points are forwarded to the general faculty for deliberation.

Role of Evaluation

The focus of evaluation is making judgments whether standards have been met in key performances. Care needs to be taken in defining standards to make sure that the desired level of performance is shared by key stakeholders and meaningfully aligned with performance measures. Evaluation involves clear articulation of intended outcomes, thoughtful selection of methods for data collection, identification of specific target levels for the performance, analysis of findings and communication of results to appropriate decision-makers. Evaluation is important in documenting student achievement, making decisions about resource allocation and accrediting programs as well as institutions. Here are three areas where evaluation is being applied in Mechanical Engineering program design/delivery.

First Year Retention: While U of I has the highest first-year retention rate among public institutions in the state (82 percent, up 5 percent from the previous year) and students entering the College of Engineering are among the most likely to obtain a U of I degree, there is a strong on-campus push for greater levels of academic success. Last year, first-year professional advisors were hired across campus to ensure smoother transition from high school to college and to provide quicker intervention in response to early warning/midterm grades as well as probation/disqualification interventions. The full-time job of these advisors is supporting the whole student in their college experience. In addition to higher levels of freshman engagement in advising as well as college-based activities, our D/F/W rate for freshman students has declined significantly. First-year retention for the College Engineering rose to 83 percent.

All U of I programs have a mandate to improve their 1st year retention as well as their 6-year graduation rate. This will continue to be an important element of U of I program evaluation.

Program Prioritization: Last year all academic and non-academic programs were required to submit documentation to go along with data from the office of institutional research in ranking program effectiveness. We prepared a narrative about our program contribution to the U of I strategic plan along with multi-year data on enrollment, awarding of degrees, research expenditures, measures of diversity and expenditures against general education budgets, see Our statement of mission fulfillment as reviewed by department chairs and administrators across campus was rated first among 48 programs. As a result we will be receiving funding for two more graduate teaching assistants and a full complement of in-state tuition waivers for all of our TAs.

Accreditation: Our next ABET visit will be in 2019 and we will be putting together a self-study report over the next year where we will be mining data from our archive of ABET Student Outcome Reports. One ingredient in the self-study is our updated Program Educational Objectives which many of you contributed to via previous newsletter surveys. In addition to disciplinary accreditation, all programs need to contribute to a university-wide effort to proactively respond to expectations of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and University (NWCCU) surrounding institutional accreditation. Our departmental curriculum committee has done an artful job synergizing NWCCU requirements with those of ABET. Our ME program materials were recently featured as one of three exemplars across campus in an interim NWCCU visit.

— Steve Beyerlein
Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering

In This Newsletter

Vertically Integrated Project Learning

Undergraduate Students

Graduate Students


Teaching Innovations

Faculty & Staff

Manufacturing Infrastructure


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Mechanical Engineering
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Moscow, ID 83844-0902

Phone: 208-885-6579

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