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Effects Of Sex And Ethnicity On Performance On The Materials Concept Inventory

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Student Diversity: attracting and retaining a diverse population of students

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.587.1 - 12.587.9



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Paper Authors


Elliot Douglas University of Florida

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Dr. Elliot P. Douglas is Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida. His educational research interests are in the areas of active learning techniques and critical thinking. He has been involved in faculty development activities since 1998, through the ExCEEd Teaching Workshops of ASCE, the Essential Teaching Seminars of ASME, and the NSF-sponsored SUCCEED Coalition. He is a member of the American Chemical Society, American Society for Engineering Education, and the American Educational Research Association. He received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the Ralph Teetor Education Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers, and was named University of Florida Teacher of the Year for 2003-04.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Effects of Sex and Ethnicity on Performance on the Materials Concept Inventory


This paper describes results on using the Materials Concept Inventory in an introductory materials course. The validity of the MCI is confirmed by correlation with student course grades and student self-assessment of understanding. However, the reliability of the instrument is low, and content analysis suggests that the low reliability is related to the inclusion of a large number of concepts within the instrument. Results by sexi show that women score lower than men, despite no difference in academic ability. Results for differences by ethnicity are ambiguous due to the low numbers of students in some of the groups. Overall, the results highlight the importance of developing concept inventories by maintaining a narrow focus on a specific area of conceptual understanding within a particular field. The results also point to the potential role that the context of the items has on performance, although considerably more work is needed in this area.


There continues to be considerable interest within engineering education to develop innovative modes of teaching that will improve student outcomes across a wide range of learning objectives.1 In order to appropriately assess the efficacy of these techniques a variety of assessment techniques are needed. For assessment of content knowledge, concept inventories provide a means to assess knowledge in specific content domains. The first concept inventory developed was the Force Concept Inventory, and since then concept inventories have been developed for statics,2 strength of materials,3 engineering mechanics,4 electrical circuits,4 thermal and transport sciences,5 and materials.6,7 As the name implies, concept inventories are designed to test for fundamental concepts within a domain, as opposed to memorized facts. Typically concept inventories are developed by identifying misconceptions held by students, and constructing distracter items based upon these misconceptions.

Although concept inventories are generally considered to be neutral towards sub-populations (e.g. men vs. women), there is some evidence that this is not true. A persistent bias by sex has been found for the Force Concept Inventory, with men scoring higher than women even when controlling for educational background.8,9 McCullough has investigated this effect further by creating a modified version of the Force Concept Inventory in which items with stereotypically male-oriented contexts (sports, rockets, etc.) were replaced with stereotypically female-oriented contexts (babies, kitchens, etc.).10 Although there were differences in both men’s and women’s responses on the revised instrument, the pattern of responses did not provide a clear indication of what the reason for the changes might be. Thus, while it is clear that the Force Concept Inventory has a sex bias, the exact nature of that bias has not been identified.

This paper provides some preliminary data from a larger study on the use of different pedagogies in the introductory materials course within the engineering curriculum. This paper focuses on the reliability and validity of the Materials Concept Inventory, and especially differences in performance by sex and ethnicity. The data comes from two sections of the course, taught by the

Douglas, E. (2007, June), Effects Of Sex And Ethnicity On Performance On The Materials Concept Inventory Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1868

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