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A Mastery Learning Approach to Engineering Homework Assignments

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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

Student Approaches to Problem Solving: ERM Roundtable

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.64.1 - 26.64.15



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Paper Authors


Jacob Preston Moore Pennsylvania State University, Mont Alto Orcid 16x16

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Jacob Moore is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Penn State Mont Alto.

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Joseph Ranalli Pennsylvania State University, Hazleton Campus Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Joseph Ranalli has taught since 2012 as an Assistant Professor at Penn State Hazleton in the Alternative Energy and Power Generation Engineering program. He previously earned a BS from Penn State and a PhD from Virginia Tech, both in Mechanical Engineering. Prior to his current appointment, he served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Energy Technology Lab in Morgantown, West Virginia. Dr. Ranalli's current research interests include development of tools and methods for solar energy resource assessment and the role of technology in engineering pedagogy.

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A Mastery Learning Approach to Engineering Homework AssignmentsAbstract:In many engineering courses, homework assignments are intended to be active learningexperiences, where students are asked for the first time to grapple in depth with the concepts andmethods discussed in class. For this knowledge building experience, formative feedback thatallows the student to test and refine their own knowledge would be ideal, but the assessmentpractices in many courses treat homework assignments as a summative assessment, providingonly a single, final judgment that does not allow the student to refine their solutions. This paperdiscuses a method that is used to help refocus the evaluation of homework assignments as aformative assessment activity, encouraging students to master the content presented in theassignments. The mastery based approach to homework assessment using the following strategy. 1. Homework problems are assigned and an initial due date is set in a similar fashion to a traditional course setup. 2. After the assignments are collected, the instructor evaluates each problem as either “mastered” or “not-mastered”, where points for each problem are awarded in an all-or- nothing fashion. Along with any “not-mastered” marks, feedback is given to the student to help them be able to correctly and completely answer the problem. 3. The assignments are returned to the students in a timely fashion, at which point the students have one week to redo the problems marked not-mastered and resubmit them to the instructor. 4. The cycle of feedback and resubmission continues in this fashion until either the student masters all problems, or they fail to resubmit the assignment by the listed due date. 5. At the end of the semester, the student’s homework grade consists of the number of homework problems mastered divided by the total number of homework problems.In this work the researchers sought to evaluate student opinions of the method, submissionpatterns with the mastery learning system, and student and instructor time commitments requiredfor the mastery system. Data was collected from four sophomore level engineering classes acrosstwo campuses. Two classrooms using the mastery method are compared to a traditionalhomework assessment method in another two classes. Data was collected in the form of studentperformance on assignments, semi-structured student interviews, and time data indicating howlong each instructor spent evaluating assignments and offering feedback to the students. Resultsindicate that the method was very well received by the students, who felt that the method offereda more fair evaluation of their learning. Students also reported that the method increased theirtime on task with the assignments, increased the likelihood that they would pay attention toinstructor feedback, and helped their final course grade. In terms of the time requirements forinstructors, results were inconsistent because of outside factors, but estimates indicate that themethod only required 15 - 30% longer than a traditional grading technique.

Moore, J. P., & Ranalli, J. (2015, June), A Mastery Learning Approach to Engineering Homework Assignments Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23405

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