Increasing Pass Rates in Introductory Mechanics Courses

Jowitt, WA
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School of Engineering & Advanced Technology, Massey University

BACKGROUND Low pass rates in introductory mechanics courses are commonly observed in universities throughout Australasia and elsewhere. In the author’s experience pass rates rise when the number of assignments rises. Unfortunately, with increasing class size, more assignments cause marking loads to become unmanageable. PURPOSE A teaching methodology that would encourage students to accept responsibility for, and to become involved in their studies was sought. The goal was to develop a system that would stimulate students to experience deep learning and to do more work, at the same time as reducing assessment load. APPROACH A system was developed that required all students to author questions and provide worked solutions, to be submitted in hard copy, the do-it-yourself (DIY) assignment. The lecturer chose one submission and wrote solutions that showed four lines of working for each line that was required for that solution. Only one of the given lines was correct, with subtle errors in the remaining three lines. The chosen problem and solution with four options for each line of working was posted online in multiple choice question (MCQ) format. For students to answer the MCQs they would have to carefully consider each line of working in order to decide on which answer to choose, thereby experiencing deeper learning than would take place in attempting simpler MCQ assessments. With automated marking available for MCQ assignments it was possible for the lecturer to set any number of assignments with no increase (in fact a substantial decrease) in marking load. The concepts of student-authored problems and online assessment are not new. What is believed to be unique in this paper is the provision of optional lines of working for students to analyse in deciding upon their answers. OUTCOMES In a strength of materials course, the above methodology was employed for problems in Macaulay’s method. The balance of the course did not employ the methodology. In the final exam, the average mark for the Macaulay’s method question was 65%, while the average mark for the remaining questions was 55% or lower. Students were surveyed to determine their experience of the DIY methodology. The overwhelming indications were that students felt they learned more from the DIY assignment than from other types, became engaged in the work, and appreciated instant availability of marks upon submission. CONCLUSIONS Observations made to date indicate that the DIY assignment has potential to improve student learning and exam pass rates. Acknowledging that there is risk in making abrupt changes in teaching and assessment methods, it is proposed to structure courses so that DIY assignments comprise (say) 20% of the total assessment, then to increase that percentage as the methodology is seen to produce higher marks in formal assessments.

Introductory mechanics; Pass rates; Teaching methodology; Engaged; Learning
25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education : Engineering the Knowledge Economy: Collaboration, Engagement & Employability. Barton, ACT: School of Engineering & Advanced Technology, Massey University, 2014: 731-739.
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