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Work in Progress: Effect of Assessment Frequency on Long-Term Retention of Engineering Content

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Technical Session: Pedagogy I - Best Teaching Practices

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Prabhakar Venkateswaran Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Prabhakar Venkateswaran is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He received his Master's and PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and his Bachelor of Science degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from the University of Miami. His research and teaching interests are in the thermal sciences with a particular focus on combustion and gas turbines. In addition, he is also interested in investigating effective teaching and learning practices and issues affecting the persistence of under-represented minorities in STEM fields.

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Michael D Cook Milwaukee School of Engineering Orcid 16x16

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Michael D. Cook is an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). He received the B.S. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI, USA. His interests are in control system design and optimization of mixed-physics dynamic systems, with current research in power flow control with emphasis on the optimization and decentralized control of microgrids.

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Michael Christopher Sevier Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Michael Sevier is currently an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. After finishing his doctorate degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Michael took a position at ATA Engineering where he worked as a structural analysis engineer for nine years. During this time, he both took and taught multiple professional courses and realized how many technically brilliant instructors struggled to convey information in a way that could be readily absorbed by the students. Now in his third year in academia Michael is researching how various teaching methods and study habits affect the absorption and long-term retention of class material in the hopes of best preparing students for their future as engineers.

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This is a work-in-progress paper that presents some preliminary data from a study investigating the effect of assessment frequency on students’ long-term retention of engineering course content. This work seeks to build on prior work by Roediger and Karpicke (2006), who highlight the importance of assessment as a learning tool for students. In particular, they discuss how long-term retention of course material can be promoted by ensuring each assessment is cumulative and includes material from earlier parts of the course, and spacing assessments such that students forget some of the earlier material forcing them to revisit and reconsolidate that material as they prepare.

In this study, a variety of hypotheses designed to identify the factors that impact students’ long-term retention of course content are tested. However, the primary hypothesis can be stated as follows: higher frequencies of assessment lead to improved long-term retention of course content. This hypothesis is investigated by implementing a different assessment frequency in two sections of the same course. In one section, students are given two midterms spaced roughly four weeks apart, while in the second section, students are given a twenty-five minute quiz roughly every two weeks. The students’ long-term retention is then measured by their performance on the final exam, which is common to both sections. This study is conducted across three different core courses in the mechanical engineering curriculum at the Milwaukee School of Engineering; Principles of Thermodynamics II, Mechanics of Materials II, and Automatic Control Systems. For all three courses there was no statistically significant difference in student performance between the two assessment frequencies. However, the lack of a statistical significant result is attributed to a low sample size, which decreased the power of the study. As a result, it was challenging to explore the impact of other controlling variables.

However, the lessons learned from this study are being used to construct a study in the thermodynamics sequence which will be conducted over multiple years to collate a sufficiently large sample size which will increase the power of the study. Furthermore, this study will seek to lengthen the time-scale over which student retention is being measured. In other words, in this study "long-term" is associated with the students’ ability to retain content over the course of a 10-week quarter. In the follow-on work, student retention will be tracked over multiple terms over a complete sequence of courses.

Roediger, H.L., Kapricke, J.D., (2006) "Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention.", Psychological Science 17, 249-255

Venkateswaran, P., & Cook, M. D., & Sevier, M. C. (2020, June), Work in Progress: Effect of Assessment Frequency on Long-Term Retention of Engineering Content Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35628

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