Salt Lake City, Utah
June 20, 2004
June 20, 2004
June 23, 2004
9.947.1 - 9.947.8
No More Tests: Extending Cooperative Learning to Replace Traditional Assessment Tools
R. Wane Schneiter*
Active and cooperative learning address a variety of learning styles that lead to improvements in students' abilities to retain what they learn, as well as providing other positive educational outcomes. In contrast to cooperative learning, traditional testing methods have no correlation with engineering practice and assess only a limited set of lower order cognitive skills under unrealistic conditions. The whole argument for active and cooperative learning is lost at the critical step of assessing student performance when traditional testing methods are used. To address this issue, an assessment method that encourages cooperative learning and requires application of higher order cognitive skills was developed and used to replace traditional testing methods. The assessment method uses an open-ended problem format. The students receive the problems at the beginning of each major topic sequence, usually working three to four problems during a semester. The problems are purposely designed to be difficult and broadly focused so that the students must seek help from their peers and the professor, and search the professional literature and use engineering reference works. Success is unlikely if students do not work together. The problems become the focus of in-class discussion and out-of-class work, creating a cooperative relationship among the students. A survey was developed and administered to approximately 60 sophomore through senior civil engineering students who have experienced the assessment method. The survey was designed to help understand the students' perceptions of the problems relative to traditional assessment methods and to provide empirical evidence of how the problems have influenced their learning habits.
It has been generally established that active and cooperative learning address a variety of learning styles, that they improve the students' abilities to retain what they learn, and that they lead to other positive educational outcomes [Felder et al, 1998; Terenzini et al, 2001]. Hagler and Marcy  convincingly argue that the emphasis on learning is misplaced if the classroom is the primary focus since most of the students' time spent on learning is not spent in the classroom. Consequently, activities to promote learning that involves higher order cognitive skills [Zoller, 1993; Zoller et al 2002] outside of the classroom are vital and deserving of thoughtful attention if optimal learning is to occur. Also, traditional testing methods place students in an unrealistic setting that has no basis in engineering practice and are able to assess only a limited set of lower order cognitive skills under artificial conditions. The whole argument for active and cooperative learning is lost at the critical step of assessing student performance when traditional testing methods are used. At a Sooner City [Kolar et al, 2000] workshop held on Oklahoma State University campus during early August 2000, the idea of assessing student performance by the traditional testing methods was discussed as unrealistic and poorly representative of what students know and how they would be required to use any information they may have learned. From this discussion, an assessment method that encourages cooperative learning and requires application of higher order cognitive skills was developed and used to replace traditional testing methods in several civil engineering courses at Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The assessment method has used "module problems" in up to four different courses every year beginning with the fall 2000 semester. This paper describes the use of module problems to assess student performance and provides empirical evidence of their efficacy in promoting learning.
* R. Wane Schneiter, Powell Professor of Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering Dept., VMI, Lexington, VA 24450 firstname.lastname@example.org
Schneiter, R. W. (2004, June), No More Tests: Extending Cooperative Learning To Replace Traditional Assessment Tools Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/13971
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