Learning and teaching represent two complementary, but also separate aspects of the educational environment. A good, or great, teacher can assist a student in learning, but cannot necessarily instill the habits of good learning within a student. In contrast, good, or great, learners are capable of high levels of learning even in environments where teaching may be weak. As such, it seems that one of the primary responsibilities of a teacher ought to be the training of a student to become an effective learner. This training lies less in the classroom presence and behavior of the teacher and more on the learning environment created by the instructor. A properly designed learning environment ought to minimize the influence of the teacher on learning while maximizing the learning habits of the student. One potential method for doing this is to create a “specifications-based” learning environment wherein the assessment of student performance is structured around requiring students to engage course materials in ways that are consistent with effective learning. This paper examines the application of a specifications-based environment to the design and delivery of a Statics/Dynamics course.
Specifications-based approaches are built on the foundational concepts of statistical process control. Manufacturing processes based on statistical process control rely on the theory that if the processes that produce are product are within specified bounds, then the output of the manufacturing process will also be within specification. As such, the quality of the product is controlled by the specifications rather than by the inspection.
The application of specifications to the educational process first requires the identification of the processes that lead to better learning. This paper examines the effect of incorporating effective learning practices into the graded requirements for a Statics/Dynamics course to engage students in proven learning processes.
The learning practices implemented in the course include the following: 1) Preparation for class by engaging course material prior to instruction in the same information; 2) Practice in perfecting the concepts presented during class time; 3) Immediate review of the course material through the use of structured notebook checks; 4) Ongoing review of course material by interleaving old homework exercises with current exercises; and 5) Interaction with course material in a variety of formats. What makes this course unique is not the opportunity to engage in these practices, but rather the implementation of a grading structure designed to assist students in applying sound learning practices. As with statistical process control, the assignment of grades to process quality (implementation of proper learning habits) reduces the need to perform product inspections (exams). While perhaps counterintuitive to many academics, the existence of specific inspection points is discouraged in specifications-based teaching since the use of exams can produce a number of poor study habits that are counter-effective to good study.
The results of the implementation of the process control are examined through a survey of students as well as the administration of a comparative exam. The survey compares workload and perceived learning between the specifications-based approach and traditional homework/exam based courses. The exam provides some quantitative support for the survey results, though at this time the population size is too small to produce definitive conclusions.
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