Exploring an Advanced placement[R] (AP[R]) Course of Study in Engineering: The Objective of the Three-Year Effort Would Be to Develop a Framework for Secondary and Higher Education to Work Together to Improve the Preparation of Students Entering Undergraduate Engineering Programs

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Leigh Abts is a research associate professor of the College of Education and an affiliate research professor of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland at College Park. Dr. Abts has been the Principal Investigator and Co-Principal Investigator on several National Science Foundation (NSF) awards that have provided funding to explore the feasibility and the potential for an Advanced Placement[R] (AP[R]) course of study in engineering. The research into the possibility of an AP in engineering that involved individuals and institutions (including ITEA) from across the United States began in February of 2004. The team referred to by Dr. Abts in this interview is the group that assembled at NAE under the organizational name of Strategies for Engineering Education K-16 (SEEK-16). Dr. Abts recently described and summarized the motivations, results, and next steps from a research Pre-AP[R] in engineering project.


Most educators are aware of AP[R] in such courses of study as biology, physics, and mathematics. However yours pertains to "Pre-AP[R]" engineering courses. How does this differ from, say, the physics AP[R]; and what will it mean for the "technology and engineering" strands in STEM education?

Ms. Jan Morrison, Mr. Buzz Bartlett, and I led a team that, over an eighteen-month research cycle sponsored by NSF, documented and recommended that an AP[R] in engineering was not feasible or even desirable at this time, primarily due to the lack of trained teachers and the lack of classroom resources required to offer an engineering course of study within most secondary schools. Additionally, most of the higher education institutions involved in, or acting as respondents to, the research surveys, cited that preparation, and not placement, should become the highest priority for the precollege education of incoming engineering undergraduates.

Based on a consensus of the team, the recommendation was made to NSF and the College Board that the emphasis be placed on the development of an accredited preparation pathway for students to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed and remain in entry-level undergraduate engineering courses. The response of the College Board was to offer the team the use of their copyrighted Pre-AP[R] name for a period of three years, during which time we would develop a framework for engineering. The team is now developing an arrangement with the College Board to do just that.

The objective of the three-year effort would be to develop a framework for secondary and higher education to work together to improve the preparation of students entering undergraduate engineering programs. The intent of the framework would be to encourage programs like ITEA's Center to Advance the Teaching of Technology and Science's Engineering by Design[TM] Program, Project Lead the Way[R], and the Infinity Project[R] to align aspects of their programs to a College Board-authorized Pre-AP[R] course of study. We feel that such an authorization would facilitate more secondary schools and cocurricular (after-school) programs to encourage activities that engage students in the processes and practices of engineering--e.g., design and the application of technology.

So is the nature of the project and the expected outcome to produce more engineers--to make every student an engineer?

While the intent sounds like we will track all students into engineering, in my opinion that is a secondary outcome. My interpretation of the team's goal is to encourage all students to become engaged in activities that allow them to apply their math and science knowledge through such engineering practices as design. The design process is essential to not only engineering, but also to our everyday life experiences and to making informed decisions. If we can get students at the middle to high school level to learn to "play and tinker" with science and mathematics concepts using engineering concepts and technology, we might grab their attention to continue to take that "one more" mathematics or science course. …