The Innovation Portal - Online Collaboration for the Creation of Engineering Portfolios   Online Collaboration for the Creation of Engineering Portfolios-100957

Two of my great interests and enthusiasms regarding 21st century learning have, until now, felt a bit divorced from and at odds with each other.   Yesterday, however, I learned more about a fascinating bridge developing for them.

The first is high quality, authentic 21st century assessment: if we are going to make new pathways in learning that is more meaningful for students, more preparatory for the futures they are inheriting and more engaging for the people they are today, we need to have tools that allow us to evaluate effectively their learning, both to provide meaningful endorsements of these learning paths for the skeptical and, more importantly, to correct our courses to keep doing so more effectively.

The second is the joyful messiness of open-ended and unstructured project-based learning that is found in Fab labs, design-build studios, design thinking centers, and maker-faire type spaces.   These places ought to be free from tight strictures– they should celebrate experimentation, learning by doing, trial and error, fast-failure, and never be stifled by narrow or miserable “testing.”

It might be cruel to introduce assessment to these labs and studios, but I want those teachers and students who want to find a way to build in more structure, such that they can better evaluate their own progress, get external feedback, and meaningfully improve their work to have quality ways to do so.

Clearly I am not the only one to think this (and I never am).

The Innovation Portal was launched in the last year or so, (with strong support from Project-Lead-the Way, itself also a valuable resource),and as you view the site you can see it is still developing and rounding out.  It provides a platform for

students to create, maintain and share digital portfolios. The portfolios can be used to meet a class requirement or they can be used to submit the portfolio to a scholarship or open contest. The contest owners – or anyone else invited by the student – can evaluate a student’s portfolio.

Tens of thousands of high school and post-secondary students complete original engineering design and problem solving projects each year. The vast majority of these students simply close their project portfolios and move on when the course is finished as opportunities to seek recognition for their work beyond the classroom are few and varied.

Students who participate in original engineering design and problem solving work are highly valued by post-secondary and industry representatives yet there is no standardized format or vehicle for interested parties to use to view and evaluate these student works.

Yesterday I spoke for 30 minutes with Leigh Abts, an Engineering Education Professor at the University of Maryland, who has been described as a leading national advocate for K-12 engineering and design education  and who has been seeking “ways to improve the engineering pipeline from K-12 to post-secondary for over a decade.”  He has had the aim for some time of developing an AP engineering exam that uses, in part of its assessment, a portfolio approach for assessing student work, akin to that of AP Studio Arts, and he is working with the College Board to do so.

As he explained to me, he fears many K-12 students just don’t understand the creativity and design aspects of engineering– which, in many cases, might broaden its appeal.   He also fears that we don’t have good ways of assessing and differentiating among those who do apply to engineering and related university programs those who have strong innovative and design skills/aptitudes in addition to their usually base-line strong mathematical/science foundations.

His research into this issue of university admissions found that

Without a systematic process for reviewing original student design work there is no way to incorporate the value of the work into the algorithm of college admissions or any other recognition process. Without a standardized assessment tool to organize and evaluate any submitted work there can be no systematic process.’

What was needed was a well structured and validated assessment rubric centered on the design process itself coupled with a secure means for students to build portfolios and connect their work to potential reviewers.

I was very impressed with the 17 page comprehensive rubric they’ve built out for evaluating portfolio submissions, each with a completely articulated 0-5 scale for assessing student work.    This would seem to me of great value as a model and template for schools and teachers working to bring better assessment methods to their programs.

Component I: Presenting and Justifying a Problem and Solution

  • Element A: Presentation and justification of the problem
  • Element B. Documentation and analysis of prior solution attempts
  • Element C. Presentation and justification of solution design requirements

Component II: Generating and Defending an Original Solution

  • Element D: Design concept generation, analysis, and selection
  • Element E: Application of STEM principles and practices
  • Element F: Consideration of design viability

Component III: Constructing and Testing a Prototype

  • Element G: Construction of a testable prototype
  • Element H: Prototype testing and data collection plan
  • Element I: Testing, data collection and analysis
  • Component IV: Evaluation, Reflection, and Recommendations
  • Element J: Documentation of external evaluation
  • Element K: Reflection on the design project
  • Element L: Presentation of designer’s recommendations

Component V: Documenting and Presenting the Project

  • Element M: Presentation of the project portfolio
  • Element N: Writing like an Engineer