Standards-based grading (SBG) involves the creation of course learning objectives (LO) and linking these learning objectives to particular aspects of course assignments. Assignments are created such that students have the opportunity to show mastery in a particular learning objective multiple times over the course. This approach aligns student assessment with the intended course outcomes, rather than the traditional score-based grading. The technique has been implemented extensively in K-12, but we are just now beginning to assess its use in engineering in higher education. Recent work by Carberry, et al.  investigated the implementation of SBG by ten instructors at six institutions, work that has uncovered best practices associated with SBG which will be applied in our research study as described in the methods section below. We are motivated to implement SBG as a means to connect courses in a Junior-level course sequence in Biomedical Engineering. We hypothesize that course LO are not well-mapped or optimally assessed throughout this sequence leading to unpreparedness in courses later in the sequence. Our work will identify, align, and assess LO within and across courses using SBG. We will also review and assess implementation of SBG in this context.
Currently, the first course in the sequence focuses on electronics and introduces signal acquisition. The second course focuses on signals and systems, namely advanced digital processing. The last course incorporates content from the previous courses in the sequence as well as from a fundamental statistics course in the context of experimental design and measurement. Implementation of SBG will originate in this culminating course. To date, learning objectives have been defined for this course. We will begin by matching these LO with assessments. Implementation of the SBG will be done within Canvas’s Outcomes feature. This allows students to track mastery of LO and instructors to monitor and address in a formative way those LO that students are struggling to master. This feedback will also aid assessment of instruction in preceding courses. It is our goal to introduce SBG into the earlier courses as well so that instructors of subsequent classes can gauge student mastery in relevant LO at the beginning of their course. Until mastery-based grading has been implemented throughout the sequence, quizzes based on the relevant LO of the previous course(s) will be administered. To date, a statistics concept quiz has been administered with questions pulled directly from prerequisite statistics course(s) which are relevant to the experimental design course. Development of other pre-tests are underway. Implementation of SBG will be evaluated based on overall achievement and achievement gains (in terms of SBG and concept quizzes), persistence (i.e., comparison of student numbers before and after the drop date), and attitude (through Canvas surveys) with respect to SGB.
As a result of SBG, we believe that students will be able to better articulate and track their mastery of LO. This type of assessment could be used in conjunction with virtual portfolios to showcase skill sets in job opportunities. Finally, this assessment approach could be scaled to encompass the entire degree, rather than a single course or sequence.
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