Do tinkering and technical activities connect engineering education standards with the engineering profession in today's world?

Dale Baker, Stephen Krause

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The ABET Criterion 3 a-k learning outcomes have been used for more than a decade and have had a major influence on the structuring and evaluation of engineering curricula. As such, they should have a significant impact on the perceptions of what engineers believe are the important factors in the education of engineering students. This research explores the question of whether the technical and tinkering characteristics that engineers value correspond with ABET Criterion 3 a-k learning outcomes. To answer this question a volunteer sample of engineering students and ASEE engineering faculty and practicing engineers responded to two open-ended prompts. These were, "List the characteristics of someone with good tinkering skills" and, "List the characteristics of someone with good technical skills". The method used to gather and analyze data was grounded in the descriptive study survey approach. A list of 300 statements was generated from this sample which were grouped by overarching themes (e.g. "good with hands" or "manual dexterity" under the theme of "Hands") and functioned as definitions for the themes. The statements were examined to determine if there were significant differences across the three groups of respondents. No differences were found and the data was aggregated and a word search, derived from the themes, was conducted for the definitional statements. From this the top 15 themes were ranked each for technical and tinkering characteristics, based on word frequency. Some themes appeared for both technical and tinkering but had different rankings, which resulted in a total of 24 themes. These rankings indicate that, on the whole, technical or tinkering skills represent different domains of characteristics of engineers. Next, the statements associated with the top themes were compared to the Criterion 3 a-k outcomes. Nine of the 24 themes contained definitional statements that did not correspond with the Criterion 3 a-k outcomes and an additional three had some, but not all, statements that corresponded with the Criterion 3 outcomes. Thus, approximately half of the themes of what engineers valued related to tinkering and technical characteristics corresponded to Criterion 3 outcomes. There was not much correspondence, however, to the soft outcomes such as Criterion 3 (f), an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility and Criterion 3 (d), an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams. The lack of correspondence indicates that the soft outcomes do not appear to be explicitly incorporated with tinkering and technical activities, thinking processes, or decision making processes of students, faculty and practicing engineers. Additionally, themes representing curiosity and creativity, which were of the utmost importance to engineers, with a ranking as first and second as tinkering characteristics, do not appear in the Criterion 3 a-k outcomes. Furthermore, engineers value habits of mind, such as persistence, that are also incorporated into the Criterion 3 outcomes. The differences between the characteristics that engineers associate with tinkering and technical activities and the Criterion 3 learning outcomes suggest that the ABET criteria may need to be reviewed, discussed, or debated in light of changes in the profession in the innovation-driven global economy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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