Educational Assessment Options and Opportunities

As interest in scholarly work on teaching and learning continues to grow and more faculty are trying their hands at work in this arena, materials are needed that summarize the available methods and approaches used in systematic analyses of classroom practices and learning outcomes. Just such a resource appeared last year in the Journal of Engineering Education.

The authors of this piece write about assessment, which they define along with other relevant terms. Assessment is “the act of collecting data or evidence that can be used to answer classroom, curricular, or research questions.” (p. 13) Assessment methods are “the procedures used to support the data collection process and are an important consideration in any educational research design.” (p. 13) Evaluation, which is often used interchangeably with assessment, these authors see as being different. It refers to the “interpretations that are made of the evidence collected about a given question.” (p. 13)

To highlight what might be considered “good practices,” the authors looked for examples published in this journal. They organized assessment methods used by engineering faculty authors into two categories: (1) descriptive designs including surveys, interviews and focus groups, conversation analysis, observation, ethnographies, and meta analyses and (2) experimental designs including randomized controlled trials, matching, baseline data, posttest-only design, and longitudinal design. Each method is defined, its benefits and drawbacks both identified, and then examples from the journal are cited. The article also includes a useful glossary of key terms.


Even though the focus is on research and scholarship in engineering education, others will find the article valuable for two reasons. First, most of the methods used to assess learning in engineering derive from educational research and can be used to study learning outcomes in other fields. The article provides a succinct, clear, and well-organized introduction to these methods. It’s a great starting place for faculty interested in doing research on teaching-learning—for their own benefit or for publication.

Second, the article offers a great model for other fields. How valuable for other disciplines to offer would-be pedagogical scholars this kind of overview of how learning is being assessed in their fields. What a great way to support and advance scholarship within a discipline! These authors recommend that those doing research in engineering education consider collaborating with colleagues in education. That’s a great suggestion. Collaboration could also occur across other disciplines. When the object of study is teaching and learning, we have much to learn from and with each other!

Reference: Olds, B. M., Moskal, B. M., and Miller, R. L. (2005). Assessment in engineering education: Evolution, approaches and future collaborations. Journal of Engineering Education, January, 13–25.