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Impact of Oral Exams on a Thermodynamics Course Performance

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2018 ASEE Zone IV Conference


Boulder, Colorado

Publication Date

March 25, 2018

Start Date

March 25, 2018

End Date

March 27, 2018

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Yitong Zhao California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

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Dr. Yitong Zhao is an Assistant Professor at the Mechanical Engineering Department of Cal Poly Pomona (California State Polytechnic University Pomona). After gained her B.S in MEMS from Tsinghua University in China, she joined in Dr. Chih-Ming Ho’s lab at UCLA in 2009. Later she completed her Ph.D in Biomedical Engineering there in 2014. She was engaged in the project of biofuel and later developed a unique cell-free system from microalgae that could dramatically increase the production rate of lipids, and used a unique optimization tool to further increase the performance of the cell-free system with a huge reduction of cost. The results earned her two patents. After joining Cal Poly Pomona, she devoted herself in teaching and have been experimenting with many different techniques in improving the class experience in order to meet the need of modern study.

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Oral exams are more commonly used in graduate level courses, as the exams usually demand in-depth preparation and different skills other than written test, and they usually provide valuable practice for future professional activity. Yet oral exams can also be beneficial to lower division undergraduate students, since oral exams can provide instructors direct and dialogic feedback, and provide an excellent opportunity to immediately diagnose and correct any major misconception. In this pilot study in Spring 2017, the author introduced oral exams into a junior level mechanical engineering course--"ME 301: Thermodynamics I"—at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona). Thermodynamics is a major bottleneck in many mechanical engineering programs. It is taken by third-year mechanical engineering and civil engineering students, and is characterized by high enrollment and high-repeat rates. Oral exams were introduced to the students after midterm during the quarter. In the oral test, students were given a problem of similar difficulty as examples in class. The students need to work out the steps to the final answers without necessarily calculating any numbers within 8 min. Students’ performance was graded for receiving some extra credits towards their final grades. Regular exam scores and overall course grades were collected to compare between students who took oral exams (Group A) and those who did not (Group B), while student perceptions of the course were also examined using surveys. 40 out of 76 students (52.6%) participated in this oral exam. While the midterm exam showed that students from Group A performed slightly better than Group B students on average, the difference was not statistically significant (t-test >5%). In the final exam, however, students from Group A surpassed Group B students with average score of 46.9 compared with 28.2, and the results were significantly noticeable. As to the overall grade, only 2 out of the 40 students in Group A (5%) received a D/F rate, while 19 out of 36 students in Group B (54.3%) received a D/F rate. And the average grade of Group A was a B-, yet the average grade of Group B was only a D+. From the limited numbers of survey response, 16 students from Group A responded, while only 2 students from Group B responded. And Group A students tended to feel the class more friendly, supportive, and their effort was appreciated. The results from this preliminary study suggest that the adoption of oral exams has the potential to positively impact students’ performance in the thermodynamics course.

Zhao, Y. (2018, March), Impact of Oral Exams on a Thermodynamics Course Performance Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Zone IV Conference, Boulder, Colorado. 10.18260/1-2--29617

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