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A Dozen Years of Asynchronous Learning: Using LON-CAPA for Online Problem Sets

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Biological & Agricultural Division Technical Session

Tagged Division

Biological & Agricultural

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.37.1 - 26.37.16



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Paper Authors


Carmine C. Balascio P.E. University of Delaware

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Carmine C. Balascio, Ph.D., P.E., is an Associate Professor in the departments of Plant and Soil Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware. He earned bachelor’s degrees in agricultural engineering technology and mathematics from UD. He earned an M.S. in agricultural engineering and a Ph.D. double-major in agricultural engineering and engineering mechanics from Iowa State University. He has taught engineering and engineering technology courses in surveying, soil mechanics, site engineering, and stormwater management for over 30 years. He has research interests in urban hydrology, stormwater management, and enhancement of student learning. He is in his eleventh year of service on Delaware’s Engineering Licensing Board, the DAPE Council, and has been active on several NCEES committees.

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A Dozen Years of Asynchronous Learning: Using LON-CAPA for Online Problem SetsAn asynchronous learning system tool allows the learner to work independently withoutsynchronizing his/her schedule with those of other people or events. This paper discusses theexperience of using the LON-CAPA learning system for asynchronous problem set delivery insix engineering, engineering technology, and landscape design courses offered through theCollege of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of ________ over a period of 12years. LON-CAPA (web site at <>) is free, open-source, course-management software developed and supported by Michigan State University. It includes atesting and assessment component that allows for coding a variety of homework and testproblems that are computer-graded and submitted by students on-line. Advantages of usingLON-CAPA include:• Students have unique numbers for their problems. Cheating is impossible. Students can be encouraged to discuss with one another the concepts required to solve the problems but cannot simply give one another the answers.• The system provides immediate feedback by indicating whether submitted answers are correct or incorrect. Immediate feedback is not possible with hand-graded assignments unless answers are posted beforehand. With posted answers, the danger is that students become adept at "reverse engineering" the solutions without really understanding how they should be obtained.• Computer grading makes mastery based learning feasible by not requiring significant instructor grading time. Multiple attempts encourage perseverance so that students will work on the problems and remain engaged in active learning until the solutions are obtained; whereas with conventional hand-graded assignments, students may simply give up or be unaware they are doing problems incorrectly.• Increased student/instructor interaction allows the instructor to “coach” students with appropriate assistance. Students spend less time in unproductive (and frustrating) confusion. LON-CAPA gives the instructor the ability to check values of intermediate calculations required to arrive at the solutions of each student’s problems. This feature makes it possible quickly to identify the points with which the student is experiencing difficulty. Misconceptions and gaps in knowledge can be readily addressed.• Collaborative learning is encouraged. Since all students have somewhat different problems, they can discuss amongst themselves the approaches to solving the problems but can't give each other the answers. Such mutual learning interaction between students is beneficial because students will either be required to articulate their knowledge of a subject in ways that another student can understand or will profit from getting an alternative perspective from a peer on how to approach a problem.• All resources on the LON-CAPA system network are available for sharing with all other system users.Courses included surveying, soil mechanics, stormwater management, and site engineering.Over 400 student-semesters of data that compared LON-CAPA problem-set performance toexam scores were scrutinized. For some courses, it was also possible to examine the relationshipbetween exam scores and performance on conventional hand-graded problem sets. Significantpositive relationships between successful completion of both types of problem sets and examscores were found and are discussed in the paper.

Balascio, C. C. (2015, June), A Dozen Years of Asynchronous Learning: Using LON-CAPA for Online Problem Sets Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23378

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