June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Electrical and Computer
14.329.1 - 14.329.11
Closing the Loop on Assessment
In recent years we have noticed an increase in the number of students making fundamental mistakes in upper-division electrical engineering (EE) courses. In addition, we have found that some students have forgotten a significant amount of the prerequisite material. This results in more class time being devoted to review material in these courses and limits the amount of new material that can be covered. We began tracking the occurrence of these errors in upper-level classes as part of our normal assessment. We identified the initial core courses where these topics were first taught. Tests over prerequisite material were established in the fall of 2008 in Circuit Modeling II, Analog Electronics, Signals and Systems, and Controls because these were the classes immediately following the identified initial core courses. A test was also added in Circuit Modeling I to determine the retention of mathematical problem-solving skills from prerequisite math classes. These tests, which occurred at the end of the first week of class, were counted as 2-5% of the total class grade to encourage students to take them seriously. This initial round of tests showed that a majority of students had failed to retain key concepts from classes taught the prior semester. Results from these tests and follow-up actions to improve the long-term retention and understanding of material by students are discussed.
In recent years our engineering faculty members have noticed that our current students appear to be forgetting material and key concepts more quickly than students from a generation ago. Not only is material from prior courses forgotten, we have noticed that many students have trouble remembering material covered earlier in the semester. This has been demonstrated by their poor performance on comprehensive final exams. These students try to memorize things for the midterm exams instead of learning content in depth. A significant amount of scientific research has been completed about how the human mind works and how we learn. A 1999 study by the National Research Council has discussed this issue in detail1. The study stated that “transfer is affected by the degree to which people learn with understanding rather than merely memorize sets of facts”1.
The findings of the above National Research Council study can help us improve the long-term retention of key concepts by our students. Active learning environments can improve transfer in students1. At UW – Platteville we incorporate hands-on laboratory and design experiences throughout the curriculum that reiterate and extend what the students learn in the traditional lecture mode. Although instructional techniques can improve transfer in students it is not always the main problem. This was documented by Phillip J. Parker in a recent paper in which he compared student performance on a first-day quiz to the type of learning environment in the prior class2. Half of the students took the prerequisite class from a professor that used an active learning environment. The other half of the students took the prerequisite class from a professor using a traditional lecture style. The students performed equally poorly on this quiz. In this case the key problem was that the students never really understood the concept (underlearned) regardless of the teaching method and thus they were unable to store it in long-term memory.
Buechler, D., & Sealy, P., & Drury, D., & Muslu, M. (2009, June), Closing The Loop On Assessment Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/5488
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