An Expert Opinion

Helen L. Plants

ERM Magazine * v.4 n.1 - October 1971

Wherever you see a Riehle testing machine there is a good probability that you will see a framed maxim close by. It reads, "One measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions." Most engineers agree wholeheartedly--until they start talking about education.

When the engineering teacher discusses his teaching he becomes a man of many opinions, not to say intuitions. He reports on an "educational experiment" and gives us his subjective opinion of how well it worked. He also reports his students' opinions as stated by them. A universal summary for an educational report from an engineer seems to be, "I liked it, and more of my students liked than disliked it. I gave more A's than last year." He presents no other evidence. One wonders if he would accept similar findings in a lab report from his students, much less submit them himself on a research project.

The results of this lack of measurement have been doubly detrimental. It has not presented other engineering teachers with a sufficiently strong case for new teaching methods that they are moved to try them. Consequently, most new ideas are quietly abandoned the minute their original advocate moves on In addition, the lack of proper measurement has left the innovator with no defense against his detractors, since certain] one man's opinion is as good as another. Without the solid ground of measured results, the innovator must either yield to the opinions of his opposition or be damned as a stubborn crank. Neither course results in acceptance of his work.

In order to make a real improvement in engineering teaching, each innovator must thoroughly define what he attempts to accomplish, then devise subjective tests to determine how well he accomplishes it. He must apply his tests and abide by the results rather than attempt to explain them away. He must refine his tests as well as his teaching method until it accomplishes what he wants and he can prove it with measurements and not opinions. Only then will he have made an educational gain in which an engineer can take pride.

* ERM Magazine was published by the Educational Research & Methods Division of the American Society For Engineering Education from 1968 to 1980.