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Title:Mastery-style exercises in physics
Author(s):Schroeder, Noah D
Director of Research:Stelzer, Tim
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Selen, Mats A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Brown, David; Eckstein, James N.
Department / Program:Physics
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Physics Education
Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) Education
Abstract:Mastery learning employs repeated cycles of instructional support and formative assessment to help students achieve desired skills. Instructional objectives are broken into small pieces, and students master those pieces in successive order by performing to a set standard on an assessment for each objective. If a student cannot master an objective, instructional support is provided, and the student is reassessed. Mastery learning has been proved effective in many subject areas, but comparatively little research has been done on applying it in physics instruction. This dissertation details the path taken that culminated in the use of mastery-inspired exercises to teach students basic skills in introductory physics courses. The path that led to our choice of mastery began with an attempt to provide students with extra practice and formative assessment through weekly practice tests with corresponding solutions, with the goal of helping them better prepare for summative exams in an introductory physics course. No effect was seen, and participation was very low. Investigating how students learn from solutions revealed that they are poor evaluators of their understanding of provided solutions and struggle to retain the skills taught in those solutions. In a follow-up clinical experiment that provided students with solutions, required them to recall the solutions from memory, and re-presented the solutions for restudy, students showed strong retention as well as the ability to transfer information from the solutions to new situations. These results inspired the formal use of mastery learning as an instructional paradigm due to its requirement that students repeatedly recall information from solutions and apply it to new situations. Mastery-style exercises were first created and tested in clinical trials, followed by two in-course implementations. In the clinical trials, students completed a set of questions on a particular skill, and if they failed to master that skill, they were given support in the form of narrated animated solution videos followed by a new version of the question set. On mastering a skill, students moved on to the next skill level. Students mastered all provided skill levels and then took a post-test. Those clinical trials demonstrated that students can use provided solutions to quickly progress through successive levels of mastery exercises and that mastery-style exercises had a larger impact on the post-test than traditional multi-try immediate feedback homework exercises. Following these strong results, mastery-style exercises were implemented over an entire semester in an introductory course, replacing the existing homework. Participation was much poorer than in the clinical experiments due to frustration with the difficulty of the provided exercises. As a result the implementation had a comparatively small impact on student performance. Frustrated students circumvented the system by ignoring provided solutions and skipping assessments, choosing instead to cycle through the provided versions until they could reattempt an already seen version of an assessment. A follow-up implementation covering a single week had a larger impact on a quiz, yet students were still frustrated with the exercises and displayed behaviors similar to those seen in the semester-long implementation. Moving forward, frustration must be overcome to return participation to levels seen in the clinical trials. A preliminary development mode is suggested to ensure proper calibration of difficulty to student skills. Other changes involving how the mechanics of the system work as well as how its benefits are communicated to students are also suggested. If frustration is overcome and participation increases, the incredible potential of mastery-inspired exercises can be realized. Mastery is a powerful addition to physics instruction.
Issue Date:2015-06-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Noah D. Schroeder
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-29
Date Deposited:August 201

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