For more than a decade, American industries have complained that the skills of engineers entering the workforce are not sufficient to meet the challenges of a high-performance workplace (1). In addition, ABET has recently changed the student outcomes required for engineering graduates to reflect many of the skills lacking in undergraduate training (2). Additionally, national studies suggest the preparation of US graduate students is too narrowly focused on academic research skills, at the expense of professional skills such as communication, teamwork, mentoring, and leadership (3). In response to these studies, many departments are trying to radically change their curricula to better suit the changing needs of employers. However, these changes are often made without a full understanding of the programs strengths and weaknesses. To help bridge the academic-employer disconnect, we suggest improving assessments of academic programs to drive evidence-based changes to curricula.
In response to national and local studies of employers, our department decided to radically transform the undergraduate curriculum in both content and delivery methods to better meet the need of employers. Our program conducted faculty surveys and interviews, student surveys, and employer surveys to determine key knowledge and skills that are a priority for our program. In addition, we developed a robust assessment system to take baseline data and then collect data during the change process. During this curricular reform, we trained faculty in pedagogical approaches for the classroom and built active-learning classrooms to support the use of more active instruction. While moving the undergraduate program to active-learning, we moved lectures into online content and noticed that the content needed for support of undergraduate classes was often content that may also be needed for graduate curricula, particularly for remediation. Conversations about the graduate program and gaps in knowledge and is driving us to repeat what we have done for our undergraduate program to inform the graduate program of unique educational needs and skills for graduates. Assessment and instructional modules to link across both the undergraduate and graduate programs are being developed. These evidence-driven processes help to facilitate discussion about curricular reform and how curricular modules and assessment spanning across the department can impact the department culture around education across all levels. Here we present a case study of evidence-based multi-level curriculum reform including sharing our needs identification process from industry and department stakeholders as well as assessment tools used to collect student performance data to support multi-level curriculum reform.
1. Van Horn, Carl E. "Enhancing the Connection between Higher Education and the Workplace: A Survey of Employers." (1995)
2. Michael K. J. Milligan P.E., Joseph L Sussman, Patricia Brackin P.E., and Sarah A Rajala. "ABET Update Proposed Revisions to EAC General Criteria 3 and 5". 2016 EDI, San Francisco, CA, 2016, March. ASEE Conferences, 2016.
3. Denecke, D., K. Feaster, and K. Stone. "Professional development: Shaping effective programs for STEM graduate students." Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools(2017).
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