Transparency in Assessment
“It’s about demonstrating learning…These assignments are the tools and opportunities for professional growth” –Dr. Denis Onen
ENGG 513 is a course that focuses on professionalism and ethics in engineering, and engineering law. It is a required class for all students in the Schulich School of Engineering, taken in the upper years of the program. It has been taught in blended form in the past, but is now completely online, other than the final exam. There is a high expectation for students in the course. They require a minimum grade of 65% to pass. However, Dr. Denis Onen, the course professor, believes in supporting the students through the course and making all of the assessments very clearly outlined for them. The course outline can be found here.
The assessments in ENGG 513 are very different to what students are used to in their engineering courses. It is run like a social science class. Dr. Onen makes sure students understand why the content is so important. This is the first time many students are exposed to the serious responsibilities of the engineering profession. They will not be allowed to work as professionals in the industry without a working knowledge of the rules and regulations that guide it.
Students are assigned to write their notes in an engineering logbook. Dr. Onen expects the notebooks to be neat and professional, mirroring the notes that they would have to keep when working on projects as professionals. Students are able to use the notes in their logbooks for their final exam, so they are motivated to keep them clear and detailed. Logbooks are graded at the end of the semester. Examples of excellent quality work are provided to give students an idea of how to successfully organize their notes.
Students have to complete several written assignments throughout the course. Again, there are clear expectations for what is required. For example, the first assignment is a case study, where students read through a report of a professional engineer who failed to comply with professional standards and was involved in a disciplinary hearing. They have to write a paper that summarizes the case, identifies stakeholders, and analyzes which rules were broken and how the incident could have been prevented. The requirements and rubric are outlined in detail for the students, from the basic formatting to details about how long each section should be and what questions the discussion section should answer. Examples of previous reports are given to aid students.
The students complete a written exam at the end of the semester. Some questions are knowledge-level and involve defining rules and principles or giving examples. Others give a short scenario and ask questions about how ethics and professional rules apply to that situation. Students have the opportunity to propose exam questions on an online discussion board before the test. These are ungraded, but if the questions are of a high enough quality, Dr. Onen uses them on the final. This benefits students in many ways. If they propose and answer a lot of questions on the discussion board, they have likely done some of the actual exam questions. Even if their questions are not used, there is a lot of value from writing potential questions. The students have to think critically about what the core concepts are and what could be asked about them. They also get to see what their peers think are the important ideas in the course.
One of the biggest objectives of the course is for students to develop professional maturity. It is not easy, but since the expectations on the assignments and exam are clear, students can focus their time and energy on understanding the content and their identity as a professional, not worrying about how to communicate ideas, that is, writing quality is evaluated based on clarity rather than quality of prose. Assessments should reflect what a student has learned, not whether or not they know how to write a test or a paper in an elegant manner. Although the communication is important, the knowledge and understanding is far more valuable for everyone.
Learning about the basics of engineering law, professional responsibilities and regulations, and ethical theories forms a basis for students to enter the engineering profession with the ability to better understand professional issues, beyond just the technical aspects of the field. They develop the knowledge to recognize complex situations and have tools to work effectively to resolve them.
To read about how Dr. Onen assesses students in a project-based course, click here