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Exploration of a Nontraditional Assessment Method Using a Participatory Approach

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Learning Outcomes and Assessment Within Chemical Engineering

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Tamara Floyd Smith Tuskegee University

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Dr. Tamara Floyd Smith is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at Tuskegee University. She has been a faculty member at Tuskegee University for 18 years. She currently teaches Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer. Those courses integrate well with her scientific research portfolio. She is also actively engaged in engineering education research.

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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions of higher education quickly pivoted to remote learning in Spring 2020. While, pre-pandemic, many face-to-face classes were structured as flipped classrooms or other formats that allowed some remote learning, student assessments like exams were typically administered in person. The pivot to fully remote learning motivated the exploration of alternative assessment methods that measure student learning outcomes, encourage student creativity, eliminate the need for proctoring and don’t require face-to-face administration. This paper describes a non-traditional approach to assessment in which students were expected to write an exam along with the solutions in place of a traditional exam. This novel assessment approach addresses the needs previously listed.

The method was first explored in Fluid Mechanics, a sophomore level course in the chemical engineering curriculum. It was offered in the Spring 2020 semester. The instructor provided the students a practice exam and detailed rubric. In earlier exam administrations, the practice exam and solutions gave the students the freedom to assess their own readiness for the actual exam. In the non-traditional exam, the practice exam served as a model exam, along with the rubric, to assist students in preparing a high quality submission. In the referenced course, two of three regular exams were administered in a more traditional format before the pivot to remote learning. Thus, the previous two exams provide a baseline to compare student performance. Students completed pre and post surveys inquiring about student perceptions of both the appropriateness of the exam and the value of the rubric and practice exam as preparation tools. Key outcomes were the expression of student creativity, evidence to suggest an elevation of course equity and the identification of gaps in student understanding that would not have been apparent using a more typical assessment method.

The method was also explored in Fall 2020 in Heat Transfer, a junior level course in the chemical engineering curriculum. It was the follow-on course from Fluid Mechanics. Therefore, the cohort was similar. Because the full course was during the pandemic, a comparison couldn’t be made to a traditional exam format to use as evidence to confirm an elevation of course equity. However, creative expression and the identification of gaps were realized. Students were not as enthusiastic about the approach in Fall 2020 and attributed this attitude to the ongoing pandemic. This lethargy is supported by the higher education literature describing mounting mental health pressures due to the duration of the pandemic.

Going forward, the author will not implement the assessment method again during the pandemic. However, there are plans for use as a better alternative to the occasional take home exam.

Smith, T. F. (2021, July), Exploration of a Nontraditional Assessment Method Using a Participatory Approach Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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