The universities in different countries follow their own curriculum development philosophies and processes with the intention of producing "environment-ready" engineers. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology's (ABET) criteria was introduced to rationalise the various curriculum development processes followed by different universities in the US. The ABET's requirement for accredited programs to implement outcomes-based assessment models has stimulated the growth of formalised assessment of programs within the engineering and engineering technology communities. The ABET plan contains the specifics of a structured process, which validates that students are achieving the goals and objectives of the program via direct and indirect measurements.
Recent transformations in engineering education accreditation have shifted emphasis to focus on the documentation of student learning outcomes. The ABET Engineering Criteria 2000 (EC2000) demands that engineering programs show evidence of at least 11 skills in their students. Only five of these skills relate to a student's technical abilities. The remaining six define what have been called "soft" skills, and it is this shift in emphasis that carries significant impact on technical communication programs and pedagogy. To meet these criteria, the engineering institutions actively promote student development in knowledge, skills and behaviour in these areas, and measure the effectiveness of relevant instruction. Measuring student behaviour in these areas and showing positive change as a result of the time spent in the educational program creates a major challenge for educators (Culver et al, 2005). In essence, EC2000 has redefined both who is responsible for developing students' communication skills and for documenting evidence of student learning outcomes (Williams, 2000).
Outcome-based education (OBE) is the paradigm shift resulting from the failure of traditional education to adapt to evolving demands of the local industry. This is due to the lack of respective focus in the education process. Traditional education narrowly focused on the content and produced students with varying degrees of achievement levels. Thus this model did not produce learners, which could perform effectively in the work place. OBE is a methodology of curriculum design and teaching that focuses on what students can actually do after they are taught. Thus, the OBE's instructional planning process is a reverse of that associated with traditional educational planning. The desired outcome is determined first, and then the curriculum, instructional materials and assessments are designed around to support and facilitate the intended outcome. Outcome-based assessment is the culminating part of OBE.
Currently, it is understood that a systematic process must be in place to assess the achievement of both the program outcomes (at graduation) and the program educational objectives (a number of years after the graduates left the program). The process needs to be ongoing to ensure the continuous improvement of each program with input from constituencies, process focus, outcome and assessment linked to objectives (Mourtos, 2006; Enderle et al, 2003). This requires that the program administration should deploy a continuous assessment process that provides meaningful input to future program development and allows the institution to strengthen its educational effectiveness (Stephanchick & Karim, 1999).
2 RELATED WORK
A number of methodologies have been developed in engineering programs preparing for accreditation under ABET criteria EC2000. Many of the commonly promoted assessment activities, such as exit interviews and employer interviews, require many years before trends can be established (Withington, 1999). Withington (1999) suggested methods to shorten the cycle time of assessment and produce documented progress in achieving educational objectives. …