ASEE NCS Conference 2019

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A New Assessment Model in Mechanics of Materials

In this paper, we describe the results of a three-year experiment that was conducted in the sophomore level Mechanics of Materials course at Michigan State University. The results of this study indicate that the method of assessment used in a course is key in achieving the desired student outcomes.

The current approaches that students take to pass a class are dominated by two growing practices, neither of which contributes to the desired student outcomes. The first practice is the copying of homework solutions from online resources. Collaboration on homework has occurred at some level since graded homework was introduced, but the practice of purely copying homework without even thinking about its substance is now so widespread that many have concluded there is no value in assigning course credit for homework.

The second practice is for students to memorize the solution for a specific example problem and then reproduce parts of that solution for any similar problem on an exam. The goal of this is to maximize partial credit rather than to actually solve the problem at hand. This strategy works so well because partial credit has steadily become so generous that many students no longer feel the need to solve problems correctly.

In many cases, the desired grade in a class can now be obtained through a combination of copying online solutions to obtain a nearly perfect homework score and maximizing partial credit on exams by memorizing example problems. It is possible for a student to successfully pass a class without correctly solving even a single engineering problem.

In the fall semesters of 2016, 2017 and 2018, the authors conducted an experiment involving multiple sections of Mechanics of Materials. In 2016 and 2017, one or two sections of the course used a modified assessment approach, while the other section (the control) used an assessment approach that mirrors the current standard. The sections were taught by different instructors. A common final exam was administered across all sections to determine the effects of the different assessment approaches used during the semester. Compared to the control section, the final exam mean scores in the sections using the modified assessment approach were approximately 20-30 points higher (out of 100).

In 2018, the instructor who previously taught the control section adopted the new assessment approach, so that now all (two, in this case) sections of the course were using the same course structure and assessment method. The common final exam results were nearly equivalent among the two sections and these scores compared favorably with those of the previous years.

This study indicates that the new assessment approach had a significant effect on the ability of students to solve Mechanics of Materials problems on the final exam, and these results were independent of the instructor. Details of the modified assessment approach and the experiment results will be provided in the paper.

Ronald Averill
Michigan State University
United States

Sara Roccabianca
Michigan State University
United States

Geoffrey Recktenwald
Michigan State University
United States


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