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Experience with Mastery Learning in Engineering Courses

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Environmental Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Daniel B. Oerther Missouri University of Science & Technology Orcid 16x16

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Professor Daniel B. Oerther, PhD, PE, FAAN, FRSA, FRSPH, FCIEH, ANEF, FSEE, joined the faculty of the Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2010 as the John A. and Susan Mathes Chair of Civil Engineering after serving ten years on the faculty of the University of Cincinnati where he was Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Oerther earned his B.A. in biological sciences and his B.S. in environmental health engineering from Northwestern University (1995), and he earned his M.S. (1998) in environmental health engineering and his Ph.D. (2002) from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has completed postgraduate coursework in Microbial Ecology from the Marine Biology Laboratory, Environmental Health from the University of Cincinnati, Public Health from The Johns Hopkins University, and Public Administration from Indiana University, Bloomington. Oerther is a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) in DC, MO, and OH. He is Board Certified in Environmental Engineering (BCEE) by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientist (AAEES), registered as a Chartered Engineer (CEng) by the U.K. Engineering Council, recognized as a Diplomate of the American Academy of Sanitarians (D.AAS), certified as an Environmental Health Specialist (CEHS) by the State of Missouri, registered as a Chartered Environmentalist (CEng) by the U.K. Society for the Environment, and recognized as a Certified Environmental Professional (CEP) by the Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals. Oerther's scholarship, teaching, service, and professional practice focus in the fields of environmental biotechnology and sustainable development where he specializes in promoting Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH), food and nutrition security, energy efficiency, and poverty alleviation. Oerther's awards for teaching include the best paper award from the Environmental Engineering Division of ASEE, as well as recognition for excellence in teaching from the NSPE, the AAEES, and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP). He participated in both the 2006 and the 2015 conferences of the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) as well as the 2011 Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium (FOEE) of the U.S. National Academies. Oerther is a four-time recipient of Fulbright, and he has been recognized with a Meritorious Honor Award by the U.S. Department of State. Due to his collaborations with nurses and healthcare professionals, Professor Oerther has been inducted as a Lifetime Honorary Member of Sigma Theta Tau, the International Honor Society of Nursing (STTI), and he has been inducted as a Lifetime Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing (FAAN) and the Academy of Nursing Education Fellows (ANEF). Oerther has also been elevated as a Fellow of the Society of Environmental Engineers (FSEE), the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), the Royal Society for Public Health (FRSPH), and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (FCIEH).

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As previously reported, mastery learning has been used by the author to provide instruction to more than 750 students in a total of 24 separate offerings of five different semester-long courses. In prior publications, the results of anonymous student feedback collected at the end of the semester have been reported, including: quantitative results of Likert-scale responses to five common questions; and representative comments to open-ended questions. These prior results suggest that at least two responses are predominant, namely: 1) rejection of mastery learning as “unfamiliar”/“unfair”, or “lazy on the part of the professor”; or 2) welcoming of mastery learning as “empowering”, or “an opportunity for self-ownership of learning on the part of the student”. To improve our understanding of the attitudes of students towards mastery learning, a qualitative approach was employed in the current study. Through discussions with experts in qualitative methods, a structured interview guide was constructed by the author and included questions about: 1) “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education”; 2) “Principles of Adult Learning”; and 3) ABET student outcomes. The structured interview guide also included an opportunity for free response to open-ended queries about flipped classroom, blended delivery, modified mastery learning, and flexible summative assessment. Experts in qualitative methods recommended an initial pilot study with a population of ten students. These ten alumni were selected from a subpopulation of the 750 students who previously completed at least one course employing mastery learning. The subpopulation was identified as individuals who earned a grade of “A” in a course with mastery learning and subsequently completed a semester-long course of “Independent research” with the author. The subpopulation included approximately 50 individuals students. Ten random individuals were selected from this subpopulation, contacted via email and follow-up telephone call, and invited to voluntarily participate in a one-on-one structured interview with the author. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed for themes by two individuals. The summary results of thematic analysis from these structured interviews are reported as a preliminary pilot study. In brief, these ten alumni provided a favorable view of mastery learning, and the results of this pilot study suggest that the structured interview guide is an appropriate starting-point for a more robust qualitative study employing a more formal approach such as interpretative phenomenological analysis or narrative discourse analysis.

Oerther, D. B. (2019, June), Experience with Mastery Learning in Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32788

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