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Testing For Prerequisites In Thermodynamics As An Assessment Tool

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



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Page Numbers

6.976.1 - 6.976.7

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Maurice Bluestein

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3248

Testing for Prerequisites in Thermodynamics as an Assessment Tool

Maurice Bluestein Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis


At Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI), bachelor degree students in mechanical engineering technology are required to take two thermodynamics courses. The second, usually taken in the upper level years, has prerequisites of calculus and the first thermodynamics course. We have found it necessary in all thermodynamics II courses taught over the past ten years to review calculus and thermodynamics I extensively. Thus we have set out to quantify how much of the prerequisites are remembered by giving a brief, in-class, closed book test on the first day of class in thermodynamics II. The test consists of multiple choice questions on simple differentiation and integration (six questions) plus thermodynamics (four questions). The tests are taken anonymously to relieve anxiety and to insure a true measure of what the students know as a group. The results of these tests will be reported in this paper with a commentary on any differences seen between fall and spring semesters. The overall results are not encouraging: no class has scored above 50 percent, with a three semester average of 46.1 percent.

I. Introduction

The current emphasis on outcomes-based assessment processes in engineering technology programs has been spearheaded by the TAC/ABET accreditation agency1. Most engineering technology schools recognize the need to develop an assessment program if they are to maintain accreditation. An important criterion in any such program is the demonstration of appropriate mastery of the knowledge, techniques, skills and modern tools of the students’ disciplines. Most programs attempt to demonstrate this within the learning objectives of a particular course. Rarely is an attempt made to verify such mastery of the prerequisite(s) for that particular course. At IUPUI, we have been doing this for the past three semesters, going on a fourth, in our Thermodynamics II course.

The assessment of prior knowledge and understanding is an accepted element of classroom assessment techniques. In particular, a Background Knowledge Probe has been recognized as an effective tool to establish the appropriate level at which to begin instruction2. Students enrolled in Thermodynamics II are given a 10 question multiple-choice test on the first day of classes. The test covers material from Thermodynamics I and Calculus I, the two prerequisites for Thermodynamics II. This test has been utilized to develop the appropriate content of Thermodynamics II following

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Bluestein, M. (2001, June), Testing For Prerequisites In Thermodynamics As An Assessment Tool Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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