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A Study of Voluntary Problem Sets on Student Interest, Motivation, and Performance

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Division Technical Session 8

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Philip Jackson University of Florida

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Dr. Philip B. Jackson earned B.S. degrees in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering as well as an M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, all from the University of Florida. He is currently a faculty member at the Institute for Excellence in Engineering Education at the University of Florida. There he specializes in implementing innovative methods of instruction in undergraduate courses on dynamics, heat transfer, and thermodynamics. His research interests include numerical heat transfer, fluids, and magnetohydrodynamic simulations and facilitating undergraduate students to engage in similar projects. He is also focused on the implementation of engineering freshman design experiences.

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Different types of course assignments are often structured with different learning goals in mind. Homework assignments are designed to provide students with the necessary practice to hone skills, quizzes are designed to make sure students stay current with course topics, and exams are designed to allow students to demonstrate mastery of the material. Extra credit work, that the students can engage in voluntarily and which is usually used only to provide a small grade boost to offset the difficulty of a challenging course, may accomplish much more. This study seeks to investigate how voluntary, extra credit problem sets may be used to reach more elusive learning objectives such as to expose students to broad-scope topics, to encourage students to put more effort into the course, and most importantly to increase students’ level of self-motivation to investigate class topics further, beyond what normal time commitments might allow. Students were presented with a series of non-mandatory, free-response problems in the form of a two-month challenge. The students were given one extra-credit problem every three days in addition to the normal workload of homework, quizzes, and exams they were asked to complete. Students had only that twenty-four-hour period to complete each problem though each was designed to take only about twenty minutes to an hour to solve. To further encourage constructive competition between students and to bolster each student’s sense of self-motivation, challenge leaderboards were posted. The leaderboards anonymously displayed each student’s accumulated earnings in the challenge. Student performance data were collected throughout the course and from their collegiate record to date and correlated to their participation and performance in the challenge. Data taken included student individual course grades at the time the challenge started, individual course grades at the time the challenge ended, and the total amount of points earned and number of problems completed during the challenge. After the challenge ended students were surveyed to gauge how valuable the students felt the challenge was to their overall course performance and whether they felt the voluntary problems and the leaderboard display of scores contributed to their sense of self-motivation and interest in course content.

Jackson, P. (2018, June), A Study of Voluntary Problem Sets on Student Interest, Motivation, and Performance Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29729

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