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Effect of Mastery-graded Exams on Student Outcomes in Statics and Mechanics of Solids Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Improving Student Outcomes in Mechanics

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Hadas Ritz Cornell University Orcid 16x16

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Hadas Ritz is a senior lecturer in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and a Faculty Teaching Fellow at the James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute (MTEI) at Cornell University, where she received her PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2008. Since then she has taught required and elective courses covering a wide range of topics in the undergraduate Mechanical Engineering curriculum. In her work with MTEI she co-leads teaching workshops for new faculty and assists with other teaching excellence initiatives. Her main teaching interests include solid mechanics and engineering mathematics.

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Kathryn Dimiduk Cornell University

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Kathryn Dimiduk is the Director of the Teaching Excellence Institute in the College of Engineering at Cornell University. She received her B.A. in Physics from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford University. Her current research interests are in engineering education.

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Andrew van Paridon

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We piloted a mastery-style assessment method in one section of a sophomore-level Statics and Mechanics of Materials course at Cornell University. The main goal of this approach is to move student and course staff effort away from rote completion and grading of homework problems and towards building problem solving skills, as demonstrated with successful work on exams. Our work is inspired by the work of Averill, Roccabianca, and Rechtenwald at Michigan State University (MSU), but our implementation differs from theirs in several key aspects.

During Fall 2019, we taught two lecture sections of the course. The control section was graded in the traditional manner with a portion of the course grade due to graded homework and all exams graded with generous partial credit, while the experimental section did not have their written homework collected or graded and exams were graded with a constrained partial credit, or mastery-graded rubric. For the mastery-graded exams, students received full marks for a correct solution method leading to the correct answer, and received no credit if either the method or the answer was not correct. Some partial credit was possible if students could show that their method was conceptually correct and their wrong answer due to a calculator error or similar. Students in the experimental section had the opportunity to retake parts of each exam up to two additional times to improve their scores. The two sections were given the same final exam.

Key differences between our implementation and that of Averill, et. al. include: students in both of our sections were required to submit online homework, which was auto-graded by the learning management system; we had only two midterm exams compared to their five midterm exams; due to time constraints (50 minute lecture periods versus 90 minute evening midterm time slots), students in the experimental section could retake only parts, not all, of the exams.

Students were surveyed midway through the semester and again at the end, and asked about their achievement of course outcomes and experiences with the novel grading scheme. The learning outcomes and experiences of the two sections are compared and suggestions for future implementation included. The general applicability of this method to other classes at other universities is also discussed.

Ritz, H., & Dimiduk, K., & van Paridon, A. (2020, June), Effect of Mastery-graded Exams on Student Outcomes in Statics and Mechanics of Solids Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34496

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