• Integrated assessment of disciplinary, personal and interpersonal skills – iterative development based on student responses

    Kristina Edström, Khalid El Gaidi, Stefan Hallström, and Jakob Kuttenkeuler
    Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Sweden

    Research seminar

    Integrated assessment of disciplinary knowledge and personal and interpersonal competences is discussed in the context of a final-year project course in a Masters programme in engineering. The course is intended to consolidate disciplinary knowledge through practice in an authentic design-build project, through individual and teamwork efforts. The intended learning outcomes include technical as well as personal and interpersonal knowledge, skills and attitudes. All those aspects must thus be addressed in assessment. Course development was performed within the CDIO initiative.

    We regard the personal and interpersonal competencies as interdependent with disciplinary knowledge. First, the competencies, for instance communication, are highly content-related. Second, as the process of practising communication involves expressing and applying technical content, it will also reinforce students’ technical knowledge. We therefore conclude that disciplinary knowledge and personal, interpersonal competencies should be learned and assessed together.

    This integrated approach is different from students’ previous experiences in the programme. Some aspects that students find troublesome are:

    • Students’ attitudes towards knowledge are challenged. Some are accustomed to a “right-or-wrong” view on technical knowledge and may question the nature and validity of knowledge in the personal and interpersonal sphere. They are further challenged here, by a more relativistic view also on technology and engineering.
    • Recognising and appreciating the learning in this course. The focus on synthesis, consolidation and application of often quite fundamental technical knowledge differs from the way students have previously seen knowledge being evaluated, for instance in exams.
    • The distinction between reaching the project goals (building a product that flies or floats as required) and meeting the course goals (learning outcomes).
    • The functional demands on teamwork and communication products. For the first time, a report has a purpose, other than demonstrating skills to the teacher.

    The design of the assessment system must be informed by the full complexity of the student learning experience, or assessment risks undermining the learning outcomes. Drawing on qualitative data from several cohorts of students, extracted from learning activities, interviews, questionnaires etc, we discuss and interpret students’ responses to the challenges, and how they perceive the learning experience, especially in relation to their attitudes towards knowledge. We describe our iterative development of the assessment system, where peer assessment and feedback are elements. We focus on interventions used to reduce negative effects related to the troublesome aspects of the integrated approach.


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