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Concept Inventories as Predictors of Changing Pre-Engineering Skills

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

FPD 8: Engineering Math Issues

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.323.1 - 23.323.11

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Paper Authors


Shelley Lorimer P.Eng. MacEwan University

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Shelley Lorimer is the Chair of the Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSEN) Transfer Program at Grant MacEwan University. She is an instructor in the introductory engineering courses as well. The BSEN program at MacEwan has grown from forty students since in started almost fifteen years ago, to the current 216 students. The majority of the students in the program transfer to second year engineering at the University of Alberta.

Shelley is a graduate of the University of Alberta in engineering and is a registered professional engineer with APEGA (Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta). Prior to her career at MacEwan, Shelley worked in industry as a research engineer and a consulting engineer for several years.

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Concept Inventories as Predictors of Changing Pre-Engineering SkillsThis article was motivated by a need to understand the academic strengths of engineeringstudents entering their first year, and to use this information to improve engineering instruction.At our institution, and perhaps in general, there is an anecdotal hypothesis that the mathematicalskills, or even more generally, the academic strengths of engineering students have beensignificantly declining in the last two decades. To address this hypothesis, a longitudinal study ofthe pre-engineering skills of first year engineering students at our institution was initiated almosta decade ago through the use of concept inventory exams that were administered prior to the startof first year. To this end, two assessment inventories were used to generate data with which totest the previously mentioned hypothesis. The analysis provided in this article is based on datataken using first-year engineering students in an engineering transfer program. The number ofstudents varied from year to year as the program grew from 120 students to 216 during thecourse of the study. The data obtained using the concept inventories was compared to highschool achievement to establish possible connections between two.The results of the analyses of the data gave rise to some interesting observations. The overallaverage for the engineering students on a Math Advisory concept inventory each year wastypically between 50-55% during the period considered. Since the overall high school average ofthese students was close to 80%, the outcomes of this exam were quite disappointing. Theperformance on the Force Concept Inventory (Engineering Assessment) exam was alsodisappointingly low at ~50%. In both cases, the temporal changes in the averages were examinedusing a t-test. This analysis confirmed that the changes (to date) do not appear to be statisticallysignificant. In 2010/2011, the Engineering Assessment test was also given both in a pre and postfashion to see if the results were affected by first year instruction. The results, althoughencouraging, were not as dramatic as anticipated. The average for the group increased from 52%to 62%. Considering that the students had received almost eight months of engineeringpreparatory courses, a much more marked improvement was expected. As a result of theperformance on these exams, the engineering program has regularly implemented weekly mathand engineering tutorial sessions to supplement the course curricula. However, at this stage thesuccess of these initiatives has not been verified. Although the data at first glance shows a smalldecline in the performance of students, it does not support the anecdotal hypothesis of markedlydeclining academic skills in first-year engineering students.Concept inventory assessments, which are used in a predictive way to gauge the overall skills ofengineering students, are useful in setting engineering program directives. It is clear from thisarticle that the academic averages obtained in high school, may not necessarily reflect the skilllevel of the students entering first year, especially in mathematics. A further analysis of theseassessment results in light of first year academic achievement might reveal further informationregarding the success or lack thereof in delivering the first year curriculum.

Lorimer, S. (2013, June), Concept Inventories as Predictors of Changing Pre-Engineering Skills Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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