This work in progress paper presents an overview and initial results of a new assessment method developed for an introductory thermodynamics course. The method, named the “Conceptual Fluency Approach,” is based on similar methods used at other universities for large, multi-instructor courses. The motivation for the Conceptual Fluency Approach is to promote “fluency” in fundamental thermodynamics concepts and long-term retention of these concepts for future courses, such as heat transfer, fluid mechanics and fluid dynamics. An analogy often used when explaining the Conceptual Fluency Approach to students is the learning of a new language: the Conceptual Fluency Approach aims to pass on students who are not only able to recite the “key phrases” of thermodynamics, but also understand the “grammar” (problem solving steps), recite complex sentences (solve multi-concept problems), and fluently create your own prose (solve novel thermodynamic problems that have never been seen before).
In order to promote this Conceptual Fluency, the instructional staff has constructed an assessment method that includes (1) three “levels” of problem types that mirror increasing conceptual complexity, (2) a strictly defined partial-credit rubric that does not give points for conceptual errors, (3) a “flipped struggle” scheme where students identify and learn from their own errors in their solutions and (4) a two-attempt system for assessments, where students have a second attempt to show they have identified their mistakes on the first attempts, filled these conceptual gaps of knowledge, and are able to showcase their improved conceptual fluency on the second attempt.
The Conceptual Fluency Approach is in the early implementation stage and the instructors are collecting preliminary data to evaluate the effectiveness of the assessment method. It is not anticipated that a comprehensive evaluation can be performed after only one or two semesters of this method being used. As such, this paper will describe the pedagogical approach, the preliminary data analysis (with a focus on descriptive statistics) and the lessons learned from this first implementation. Of particular interest to the author is the role of entitlement and identity in the success of students within this assessment method, and whether there are equity concerns that must be better understood and addressed in the Conceptual Fluency Approach.
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