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Learning through an Innovative Formative Assessment Strategy: An Exploratory Study of How Engineering Students Interpret System Equilibrium

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Novel Pedagogies 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.858.1 - 23.858.15



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Paper Authors

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Sensen Li Purdue University, West Lafayette


Sean P Brophy Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Sean Brophy is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. His research in engineering education and learning sciences explores how undergraduate engineering students think and reason with models as they engage in design and troubleshooting problems. At the core of this work is defining students’ ability to think and reason at a systems level. This work has potential to inform instructors on approached to helping engineering students transfer what they know to novel situations.

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Learning through an Innovative Formative Assessment Strategy: An Exploratory Studyof How Engineering Students Interpret System EquilibriumEngineering students usually generate diagrams to offload memory and informationprocessing when they design and analyze systems. One instructional challenge isproviding formative assessment and feedback on their diagrams due to limited time inclass and diverse solutions in quality. Feedback should be more than correcting errors; itshould engage learners in refining what they know. One strategy is to compare whatsomeone produces with alternate examples to support learners noticing. This studyintroduces an innovative instructional method, called “pseudo peer diagram” (PPD), toreinforce the compare-and-contrast strategy as the main avenue to provide formativeassessment and feedback. The focus of this study relates more to how students compareand contrast their own diagrams with the pseudo peer diagrams rather than to howstudents interpret the pseudo peer diagrams per se. Sophomore and junior undergraduatestudents were chosen to generate free body diagrams to interpret equilibrium in a seriesof in-depth buoyancy questions. PPDs were presented to enable a direct comparison andto serve a metacognitive function for students who use them as feedback to practice andbuild up their own self-check strategies. In order to understand how individualscognitively process PPDs, this study used think-aloud protocol to make students’cognition explicit.The results of this study will inform instructors about the challenges that students havewhen they interpret formative feedback. The taxonomy of challenges associated withinterpreting PPDs will also be generated for instructors to understand what types ofscaffolding students require. Based on the taxonomy, the author will provide guidelinesand recommendations for how to provide meaningful formative assessment and feedback.The result of this low-cost, paper-and-pencil version experiment has the potential toinform researchers of the rationale and guidelines to build future automatic feedbacksystems within the scope of first-year engineering education. This research is alsorelevant to engineering instructors and researchers who want to develop students’abilities to use cognitive strategies effectively. It may also interest engineering instructorswho are willing to apply new instructional methods and tools to facilitate students toovercome complex design challenges.

Li, S., & Brophy, S. P. (2013, June), Learning through an Innovative Formative Assessment Strategy: An Exploratory Study of How Engineering Students Interpret System Equilibrium Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19872

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