In Riley’s article “What’s wrong with evidence?”, she unpacks the origin and long-term effects of “evidence-based practice” in STEM education. The author begins by describing how the idea of “evidence” is problematic, specifically in engineering education. Riley first presents the semantic difficulty of separating evidence from opinions or beliefs, and questions the qualifications of those making these distinctions.

Riley argues the practicality of standardized education, and questions whether evidence-based education is truly learner-centered. Perhaps too often the curricula are designed around the desired outcomes in the classroom, and lose focus of useful and necessary skills. The author warns that such programs as “No Child Left Behind” are dangerous, and limit knowledge collaboration and production overall.  I also believe she wrote this with a thesaurus in her lap; her vocabulary is absurd.

Our friendly neighborhood TA, Homero, encouraged me to share my experiences with this topic. I cannot speak for engineering-related disciplines, as my focus is in Entomology.  However, for the duration of my collegiate career, it felt as though achieving the perfect “bell curve” was a much higher priority then our learning process. For example, I can’t remember a single compound structure from organic chemistry, and routinely received 70’s on my exams, but still left the class with an “A”. The professor would graph out the test average on the blackboard after each exam, and show us how he manipulated the grades to achieve the bell shape. In the end, he received good ratings for having a tidy class average, and I received the grade I desired, but did either of us truly benefit from the experience? I would argue the whole ordeal was a waste of time and money.

I feel that focusing strictly on the outcomes of the educational experience undercuts the importance of the student’s journey.  Discussion, communication and creative thinking aren’t encouraged… tenants that are the very backbone of scientific advancement. Like many, I don’t have any easy solutions to this issue. Facilitating such an environment is particularly hard in a larger classroom setting.  However, I feel present day higher education can’t see the forest for the trees.  Results and statistics are too highly valued, and the student’s experience as a whole is easily overlooked.

2 thoughts on “PUZZLING EVIDENCE

  1. Molly, I just found your blog website to read some of your words. I really like the ideas you are addressing in this blog, specifically when you say higher education can not see the forest for the trees. I don’t have an answer either for this problem, but I see the problem more than ever after coming to Tech. Smaller institutions don’t struggle as much with focusing on the students journey but large institutions are notoriously for it. I think this TedTalk may be a start for change:

    I recommend you watch it and it would awesome to catch up and discuss changing the world!


  2. Molly,

    What are your experiences/thoughts on this topic? I myself find it really difficult to provide “valid” evidence in the engineering field (or probably any STEM field). In my case, I’m in the engineering education program and my research most of the time is in the social sciences, so for me it’s very difficult to be accepted in my home field (industrial engineering) as a researcher.

    It’s also really difficult to demonstrate that there are other ways to provide evidence than the “hard” statistical datasets that are “representative” of the bigger population. This also relates to this week topic on assessment, it is very difficult to convince faculty members in engineering that there are more options to evaluate students’ knowledge than the “only one possible numerical answer test”

    Thanks for sharing,



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