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Can the Spacing Effect Improve the Effectiveness of a Math Intervention Course for Engineering Students?

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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

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.321.1 - 26.321.12



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Paper Authors


Robin F Hopkins University of Louisville

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Robin Fain is a graduate student in the Experimental Psychology PhD program at the University of Louisville. Her main research interests include learning in the classroom and eyewitness memory.

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Jeffrey Lloyd Hieb University of Louisville

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Jeffrey L. Hieb is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. Jeff graduated from Furman University in 1992 with degrees in Computer Science and Philosophy. After ten years working in industry, he returned to school, completing his Ph.D. in Computer Science Engineering at the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering in 2008. Since completing his degree, he has been teaching engineering mathematics courses and continuing his dissertation research in cyber security for industrial control systems. In his teaching, Dr. Hieb focuses on innovative and effective use of tablets, digital ink, and other technology and is currently investigating the use of the flipped classroom model and collaborative learning. His research in cyber security for industrial control systems is focused on high assurance field devices using microkernel architectures.

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Patricia A Ralston University of Louisville

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Dr. Patricia A. S. Ralston is Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. She received her B.S., MEng, and PhD degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. Dr. Ralston teaches undergraduate engineering mathematics and is currently involved in educational research on the effective use of technology in engineering education, the incorporation of critical thinking in undergraduate engineering education, and retention of engineering students. She leads a research group whose goal is to foster active interdisciplinary research which investigates learning and motivation and whose findings will inform the development of evidence-based interventions to promote retention and student success in engineering. Her fields of technical expertise include process modeling, simulation, and process control.

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Keith Brandon Lyle University of Louisville

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Can the Spacing Effect Improve the Effectiveness of a Math Intervention Course for Engineering Students?Research in cognitive psychology has established that the act of retrieving a piece of informationfrom memory increases the likelihood that the information will be retained at a later date; this isreferred to as the “retrieval practice” effect. Moreover, any given number of retrievals will havegreater impact on long-term retention if they occur non-consecutively versus consecutively (the“spacing effect”). This paper describes an ongoing project, funded by the National ScienceFoundation, to assess the potential of the spacing effect to improve retention of mathematicalknowledge. In educational settings, quizzes and tests provide opportunities for retrievinginformation, but, in many cases, there is little temporal spacing between the multiple retrievalattempts for information related to a given learning objective. Rather, multiple questionstargeting the same objective are presented consecutively or in a single short period of time (e.g.,on the same quiz). Many laboratory studies have shown that increasing the spacing betweenretrievals can improve memory, but few studies have applied the technique to actual classrooms.Furthermore, few studies have examined the impact of spacing on memory for mathematicalinformation. If increasing spacing in a mathematics class can increase retention of coursematerial, it would be of great value to students, professors, and administrators alike inengineering and other STEM fields.This project uses the online homework and tutorial system MyMathLab to manipulate thespacing of problems covering a subset of objectives in Introductory Calculus. Forty-eightobjectives were selected for study. The project investigates the effect of spaced versus non-spaced (i.e., massed) retrieval on quizzes. We utilize a hybrid within- and between-subjectsdesign. Students are assigned to either the experimental condition or the control condition.Assignment is pseudo-random such that students in the two conditions are similar indemographics and ability. In the experimental condition, half of the forty-eight target objectivesare spaced and half are massed. For spaced objectives, one quiz question is presented initially,followed by one more a week later, and a third two weeks later. For massed objectives, threequestions are presented on a single quiz. Which objectives are spaced and which are massed iscounterbalanced. The experimental condition allows for a within-subjects examination of theeffect of spacing. In the control condition, all objectives are massed. The control conditionallows for a between-subjects comparison with the experimental condition to examine whetherspacing some objectives has a “bleed over” effect on learning of massed objectives.An initial analysis will be presented in the full paper. The dependent measure will beperformance on final exam questions related to the 48 target objectives. First, proportion correcton questions relating to spaced versus massed objectives will be compared within theexperimental condition via a one-way within-subjects ANCOVA with the independent variablebeing objective status (spaced versus massed) and the covariates being race, gender, high schoolGPA, and ACT math score. Second, proportion correct on questions related to massedobjectives will be compared between the experimental and control conditions via a one-waybetween-subjects ANCOVA with the independent variable being condition and same covariatesbeing those just listed. The findings could motivate additional research into the value of spacingin foundational mathematics courses, as well as other STEM and even non-STEM foundationalcourses.

Hopkins, R. F., & Hieb, J. L., & Ralston, P. A., & Lyle, K. B. (2015, June), Can the Spacing Effect Improve the Effectiveness of a Math Intervention Course for Engineering Students? Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23660

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