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Effect of Assessment Methods on Performance in Mechanics of Materials

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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

Student Advancement in Mechanics of Materials

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Paper Authors


Ron Averill Michigan State University

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Ron Averill joined the faculty at Michigan State University in 1992. He currently serves as the Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. His research focus is on design optimization of large and complex systems, analysis of composite materials and structures, and design for sustainable agriculture.

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Geoffrey Recktenwald Michigan State University

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Dr. Recktenwald is a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University where he teaches courses in in mechanics and mathematical methods. He completed his degree in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at Cornell University in stability and parametric excitation. His active areas of research are dynamic stability, online assessment, and instructional pedagogy.

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Sara Roccabianca Michigan State University Orcid 16x16

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Sara Roccabianca is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University (MSU). She was born and raised in Verona, Italy and received her B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Trento, Italy. She received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Trento in 2011. She then was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University, in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, working on cardiovascular mechanics.
Sara’s research at MSU focuses on urinary bladder mechanics and growth and remodeling associated with bladder outlet obstruction (e.g., posterior urethral valves in newborn boys or prostate benign hyperplasia in men over the age of 60). Her goals are to (i) develop a micro-structurally motivated mechanical model to describe the non-linear elastic behavior of the urinary bladder wall, (ii) develop a stress-mediated model of urinary bladder adaptive response, and (iii) understand the fundamental mechanisms that correlate the mechanical environment and the biological process of remodeling in the presence of an outlet obstruction.

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Effect of Assessment Methods on Performance in Mechanics of Materials

Ronald C. Averill, Geoffrey Recktenwald and Sara Roccabianca Department of Mechanical Engineering, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

The current approaches that students take to pass a class are dominated by two growing practices, neither of which contributes to the desired student outcomes. These increasing trends occur across disciplines, and they are worldwide. In this paper, we explore these two practices and discuss their potential origins and effects on learning. We also describe an experiment that was conducted in the sophomore level Mechanics of Materials course at Michigan State University. The results of this study indicate that the methods of assessment used in a course are key in achieving the desired student outcomes.

The two practices discussed here are not new, but their increased magnitude and widespread effects are relatively recent. The course assessment methods used in the current experiments are also not new, but they are uncommon in today’s classrooms.

The first practice affecting learning is the copying of homework solutions from online resources. Collaboration on homework has occurred at some level since homework was introduced, but the practice of purely copying homework without even thinking about its substance is now so widespread that many have concluded there is no value in assigning course credit for homework. Online products with randomized parameter values for homework problems do not help this situation.

The second practice is for students to memorize the solution for a specific example problem and then reproduce parts of that solution for any similar problem on an exam. The goal of this is to maximize partial credit rather than to actually solve the problem at hand. This strategy works so well because partial credit has steadily become so generous that many students no longer feel the need to solve problems correctly.

In many cases, the desired grade in a class can now be obtained through a combination of copying online solutions to obtain a nearly perfect homework score and maximizing partial credit on exams by memorizing example problems. It is possible for a student to successfully pass a class without correctly solving even a single engineering problem. The practice of curving final grades adds to this problem, but this topic is not addressed here.

In the fall semester of 2016, the authors conducted an experiment in three sections of Mechanics of Materials. Two of the sections used a modified assessment approach, while the third section (the control) used an assessment approach that mirrors the current standard. The three sections were taught by different instructors. A common final exam was administered across all three sections to determine the effects of the different assessment approaches used during the semester. The maximum score on the exam was 100 points.

Among the two sections using the modified assessment approach, the final exam mean scores differed by 2.2 points (out of 100), and the median scores differed by 3 points. Compared to the control section, the final exam mean scores in the sections using the modified assessment approach were approximately 30 points higher (out of 100), while the final exam median scores were approximately 29 points higher.

These results indicate that the new assessment approach had a significant effect on the ability of students to solve Mechanics of Materials problems on the final exam. Details of the modified assessment approach and the experiment results will be provided in the final paper.

Averill, R., & Recktenwald, G., & Roccabianca, S. (2018, June), Effect of Assessment Methods on Performance in Mechanics of Materials Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30351

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