Most engineering students need to solve problems in order to master the content of an engineering course. To facilitate this, it is common for instructors to assign homework problems that should help the students understand the course material. To encourage students to complete the work, many instructors allocate a portion of the course grade to homework. One difficulty with this approach is that the instructor does not know if the student is doing the homework, or if the student is copying another’s solution (including from solution manuals) and submitting that work as his/her own. Another difficulty is that the grading of homework sets in a large class can become quite burdensome on the instructor depending on if help is available in the form of a grader. One approach that has been used to address these difficulties is to assign suggested homework problems, but then give the students short quizzes on the homework material rather than grading the assigned problems. This approach has been adopted in a second-semester course in Thermodynamics taught by the author.
This course has been taught by the author nearly every semester for well over a decade, and the topical coverage in the course has remained fundamentally the same. Until the Fall 2015 semester, the homework performance of the students was assessed via grading the homework sets. Beginning in that semester, the assessment of the homework was done through short 10-minute quizzes on the assigned material on the date the homework was “due”. The impacts that this change had on the performance of the students on the class mid-term and final examinations will be described in this paper. As the format of the course remained otherwise the same, comparisons between many semesters of students using both methods allows for a reasonable analysis of the impacts of the homework assessment mechanism. As will be described in the paper, students tended to do worse with regards to the homework portion of the grade when the quizzes were used, but improvement was seen in the exam grades. Because the exam grades are a better representation of student mastery of the course material, the use of homework quizzes is seen as beneficial to the students in this course.
In addition, the paper will include a thorough description of the two methods of homework assessment, and an explanation of the similarity of the course in different semesters over the years. The paper will also provide suggestions as to why the quiz approach may improve student test performance.
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