Assessing Seniors and Getting Actionable Results (Civil Engineering)

Robust senior-level assessment is an essential component of degree program assessment. For many programs, senior-level direct measures connect with a capstone course. Capstone courses for majors can provide valuable holistic information about students’ learning before they graduate.

Faculty in WSU’s undergraduate program in Civil Engineering (CE) have a regular and reliable source of information on how well their seniors are achieving degree program learning outcomes. Civil Engineering has been using their capstone for over thirty years as a way to integrate student learning and assess the effectiveness of the program. The course is designed to assess eleven of twelve of the programs’ learning outcomes. “This is where they put together what they’ve learned,” says Bill Cofer, assessment coordinator for Civil Engineering. “It’s where we see the final product of what they’ve learned while here.”

As CE’s senior design course, the course is set up to integrate students’ learning across the curriculum. Students are divided into teams to tackle complex local and international civil engineering problems, integrating and applying what they have learned in their program of study. Projects are assessed near the end of the semester. The process begins with informal poster presentations open to all faculty, students and Civil Engineering’s Advisory Board. The Advisory Board is composed of practicing engineers, often WSU alumni. Next, the student teams make a 30-minute formal presentation, followed by an in depth dialog with members of the Advisory Board. Each Advisory Board panel produces a consensus-evaluation sheet. The evaluation includes a rubric which allows for assessment of the program-level student outcomes. At the end of the process, the Advisory Board and key faculty meet to discuss students’ presentations, overall themes, and any areas for improvement.

Results from previous years have shown faculty where they need to make adjustments to the program’s curriculum, instruction, and advising. For example, they learned that students were weak in oral communication, so they increased oral communication course requirements, and provided training to increase the ability of students to work in groups. In several instances, results have informed revisions to the content of particular courses, to ensure students had adequate preparation for engineering practice in topics such as cost estimation, earthwork calculations and technical writing. In other cases, findings from the capstone assessment led to changes in prerequisites, adjustments to other assessment measures, and a rethinking of the advising process. “It’s one of the best ways to assess student learning,” suggests Cofer. It shows “what it will be like when they go out to practice.”

For more information on senior-level assessment measures or how to adjust current assessment measures in your program to get actionable results, please contact one of ATL’s Assessment Specialists.