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Students' Persectives on Homework and Problem Sets in STEM Courses

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session


Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1133.1 - 24.1133.18



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Paper Authors


Lea Marie Eaton Stanford University

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Lea Eaton is a senior undergraduate student at Stanford University. She is working towards her B.S in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Product Design.

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Sheri D. Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2003 Dr. Sheppard was named co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to form the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), along with faculty at the University of Washington, Colorado School of Mines, and Howard University. More recently (2011) she was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and is currently the Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Helen L. Chen Stanford University

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Students’ Perceptions of Homework and Problem Sets in STEM CoursesHomework is an integral part of every course, and a critical component of the learningexperience for students. It is the main platform from which students are expected to work ontheir own to navigate the material and internalize the curriculum. Successful homework cangreatly improve a student’s understanding, as well as encourage enthusiasm about andconfidence in the subject matter. Unsuccessful homework, on the other hand, can quicklydiscourage students, hindering their ability, interest, and comfort with the material. This studyinvestigates what qualities determine whether or not homework is successful, with a particularfocus on the “problem set” format. Problem sets make up a significant majority of the homeworkassigned in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) courses, and are a keycontributor to learning analytic problem solving, a critical skill for being an engineer.This study examines the role of homework using two datasets that each represent a differentfacet of the student perspective on this area. The first dataset is an online survey that wascompleted by over 70 students in STEM fields at a large private research university during thespring of 2013. The survey asked students about positive and negative homework experiences inSTEM courses, as well as general habits and preferences for organization and completion ofSTEM assignments, with a focus on problem sets. The second dataset is a survey about students’experiences in an engineering statics course in spring of 2013. Completed by over 80 students,the survey asked students to evaluate how well specific activities and assignments had enabledthem to meet the learning goals for the course. Analyses of these datasets have led to a moreconcrete understanding of what makes a good homework assignment, as well as the developmentof general guidelines on how to compose a successful problem set and improve the currenthomework system. These preliminary findings are explored relative to other learning approachesexamining how a variety of homework formats and systems can interact with and build on eachother. Although the focus of this study has primarily been on the student experience at oneinstitution and within engineering, the instruments and the findings have broader implications fora wider range of STEM programs and can be used to inform future exploration into otherdisciplines and programs.

Eaton, L. M., & Sheppard, S. D., & Chen, H. L. (2014, June), Students' Persectives on Homework and Problem Sets in STEM Courses Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23066

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