Accelerated Learning and Assessment in Engineering Mechanics

Nicole Pitterson
Assistant Professor
Virginia Tech

Repeated deliberate practice in problem-solving practices is known to be beneficial in increasing students’ overall understanding of targeted concepts. Additionally, when students receive frequent formative feedback, they are able to identify problematic areas of their reasoning and can correct their underlying cognitive frames of reference. However, many undergraduate engineering courses are not designed to provide students with repeated practice and targeted feedback by use of educational interventions. This project was designed to: 1) iteratively develop the innovative problem delivery and assessment system and evaluate its effectiveness in meeting specific learning and assessment goals in engineering mechanics. 2) systematically study how this technology-rich problem-solving interface can enhance the learning, teaching, and assessment of complex knowledge, and 3) critically evaluate opportunities and barriers to scaling and transferring the innovation across educational contexts. By focusing on the development of strong analytical problem-solving skills characterized by rich conceptual knowledge, this project directly responds to demands from both industry and the federal government for colleges and universities to develop complex problem solvers for the workforce.

Guiding Question(s):
How do conceptual schemas for mechanics problems differ for intervention groups (those using the online system) and control groups of students? How do students from intervention and control groups differ in reasoning through complex problems in engineering mechanics?

This project aims to develop an open-access, online adaptive problem-solving environment that can enable and foster accelerated learning, offer opportunities to improve classroom efficiency and effectiveness, and enhance assessment accuracy and effectiveness in engineering. Additionally, this environment features a growing body of practice exercises that can be widely adopted. Our materials will be open source, and the novelty of the interface for mechanics problems and our study of their impact on the curricula will contribute to scholarship on learning in technology-rich environments.

Broader Impacts:
The proposed framework offers an opportunity to revolutionize teaching, learning, and assessment – a paradigm shift in how problem solving is addressed and evaluated. In this sense, it has attributes of a dedicated tutor to offer personalized instruction and targeted feedback, a supportive coach to encourage learning and reward progress, and a probing examiner in monitoring assessments and evaluating performance. Particularly if the platform is more widely adopted, an extensive database of aggregated individual solution methods and accuracy could be mined for student learning profiles, problem solving approaches, and success in achieving course outcomes which could impact retention given the challenging nature of the course. The ability to capture the equations and problem parameter to equation variable associations used to solve problems opens a new window into a student’s thought process—not just checking an answer but capturing each student’s solution method in a form that can be computer evaluated for accuracy or deficiencies. Such capability offers potential for a paradigm shift in educational problem solving in the classroom, as homework or practice problems, and in a range of assessments.