This is an extract of the final article published by the Society of Standards Professionals (SES) in the May/June 2018 issue of Standards Engineering. This extract will also be published on the SES website at, along with other papers that resulted from NIST standards education grants. All these papers are accessible to the public on the Education page.


The collaboration between the Purdue Libraries and the Purdue Polytechnic Institute on standards education goes back to the 1980’s.[i] With a shared goal of preparing students for success after graduation, the Libraries and (then) Department of Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) devised activities and instruction to show students that they will need to be able to find information ‘beyond the textbook’ to solve the problems they will face in the workplace. They will need specific information that relates to their particular circumstance, whether it is a material property, production technique, or an industry standard.

In recent years, the Libraries and Polytechnic have incorporated basic information literacy skills—such as the abilities to seek, evaluate, apply, and document information—into a first-year Introduction to Design Thinking course, which is required of all majors. This leaves more time later in the curriculum to focus on building skills with specialized resources such as industry standards. Surveys of students[ii] identified that they needed to use standards as an important part of their co-op experiences, and that they learned about standards from interactions with their academic librarians. A survey of employers[iii] similarly found that they believed engineers need to understand the “fundamentals of standards development and knowledge to find and apply standards prior to employment.”

ABET accreditation criteria also highlight the need for students to achieve facility with standards, with the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC)[iv] requiring the student outcomes of “an ability to conduct standard tests and measurements” (3.c), “an ability to…identify and use appropriate technical literature” (3.f), and the Mechanical Engineering Technology criteria requiring “basic familiarity and use of industry codes, specifications, and standards,” (e) and Electrical Engineering Technology, the “application of…engineering standards” (a). The new ABET Engineering Accreditation Criteria (EAC)[v] accreditation student outcomes are more general, but include “an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability” (3.c). Many of these considerations are impacted or governed by standards.

The crux of the collaboration between libraries and engineering technology disciplines surrounds the complementary disciplinary expertise of finding and evaluating information (libraries) with that of interpreting and applying that information (engineering technology). As we surveyed the landscape of available online tutorials, we noticed that there was a gap; there is little, if any, material that is not specific to a particular Standards Developing Organization (SDO), institution, or discipline; targeted to undergraduate students; interactive; and includes information literacy components. Since there are many more engineering and engineering technology instructors than engineering librarians, we felt it was likely harder to find expertise in locating, evaluating, and organizing standards, the forte of librarians, in the typical classroom,. Thus, we felt a treatment of standards from an information perspective would be most beneficial contribution to the standards education community. As highly modular objects, the tutorial components can be easily dropped into any course as a supplementary resource or targeted to provide context for specific activities.

In order to allow more time in the classroom for active learning, we sought to create online instructional objects that students could interact with before their activities in the classroom. We also wanted to make the resources available to anyone else interested in using them, including ‘feeder institutions’ to Purdue programs, so that students will be prepared to use standards in their advanced courses on our campus. With the generous support of NIST’s Standards Services Curricula Development Cooperative Agreement Program (#70NANB16H261), we were able to create these resources and make them available across campus and to a global audience.

Our NIST-funded project consists of three components: a set of animated online tutorials which students can view as needed or directed by their instructors; a collection of case studies of ‘standards in action’ commissioned from students to show the importance and utilization of standards from a student viewpoint; and microcredentials (badges) to acknowledge student achievement in standards knowledge and application. All of these materials can be accessed from our project website (

These materials are aimed at the novice student, perhaps in their first or second year of undergraduate study, when they are just exploring the discipline but have little technical expertise. The tutorials can be used as a stand-alone overview of standards, answering the questions such as what is a standard, how are they developed, how are they used, and what is the structure of a standard (i.e., how do you read a standard)?


standards, information literacy, engineering technology

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