This work-in-progress centers on the fall/spring semester juncture of a two-course first-year engineering experience. As a means to provide continuity to the multidisciplinary from one term to the next, the comprehensive final exam in the fall semester is used as the initial homework assignment in the spring. These assessments cover the key content areas of the fall course, namely the engineering design process, mathematical modeling, CAD drawing and technical writing standards, and other foundational areas.
In order to provide timely feedback and mitigate the burden or re-assessing the students on this content, the spring semester homework assignment is delivered by means of a Google Form, whereby the use of an add-on script allows for student submissions to be auto-graded. The add-on script necessitates the use of easily-evaluated question types, including multiple-choice, matching, true/false, and short answer. Student averages for the first-semester exams and associated second-semester homeworks are shown below:
- 2017-18: exam = 74%, homework = 68%
- 2018-19: exam = 73%, homework = 71%
While the scores are similar, the students have on average fared worse on the homework assignment for the past two iterations. This is particularly troubling given all of the advantages afforded to students on this assignment. In addition to the aforementioned selected-response style of the questions, students are a) encouraged to work with classmates, b) encouraged to ask teaching assistants and their instructors for help, c) have a full week to complete the assignment, and d) have full access to their notes and the fall course’s slide deck.
The purpose of initiating this work-in-progress paper is to investigate the fundamental reason(s) behind this noticeable drop in student performance after the 3- to 4- week winter break. The investigation will focus on identifying the most challenging content areas and potential relationships between student scores and their motivations. In addition to assessment data, students will be surveyed for their own reflections on this anomaly. This initial study is intended to serve as a potential starting point for other educators facing similar performance drops.
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