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Title: Mastery Learning in Undergraduate Engineering Courses: A Systematic Review
This theory paper focuses on understanding how mastery learning has been implemented in undergraduate engineering courses through a systematic review. Academic environments that promote learning, mastery, and continuous improvement rather than inherent ability can promote performance and persistence. Scholarship has argued that students could achieve mastery of the course material when the time available to master concepts and the quality of instruction was made appropriate to each learner. Increasing time to demonstrate mastery involves a course structure that allows for repeated attempts on learning assessments (i.e., homework, quizzes, projects, exams). Students are not penalized for failed attempts but are rewarded for achieving eventual mastery. The mastery learning approach recognizes that mastery is not always achieved on first attempts and learning from mistakes and persisting is fundamental to how we learn. This singular concept has potentially the greatest impact on students’ mindset in terms of their belief they can be successful in learning the course material. A significant amount of attention has been given to mastery learning courses in secondary education and mastery learning has shown an exceptionally positive effect on student achievement. However, implementing mastery learning in an undergraduate course can be a cumbersome process as it requires instructors to significantly restructure their assignments and exams, evaluation process, and grading practices. In light of these challenges, it is unclear the extent to which mastery learning has been implemented in undergraduate engineering courses or if similar positive effects can be found. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review to elucidate, how in the U.S., (1) has mastery learning been implemented in undergraduate engineering courses from 1990 to the present time and (2) the student outcomes that have been reported for these implementations. Using the systematic process outlined by Borrego et al. (2014), we surveyed seven databases and a total of 584 articles consisting of engineering and non-engineering courses were identified. We focused our review on studies that were centered on applying the mastery learning pedagogical method in undergraduate engineering courses. All peer-reviewed and practitioner articles and conference proceedings that were within our scope were included in the synthetization phase of the review. Most articles were excluded based on our inclusion and exclusion criteria. Twelve studies focused on applying mastery learning to undergraduate engineering courses. The mastery learning method was mainly applied on midterm exams, few studies used the method on homework assignments, and no study applied the method to the final exam. Students reported an increase in learning as a result of applying mastery learning. Several studies reported that students’ grades in a traditional final exam were not affected by mastery learning. Students’ self-reported evaluation of the course suggests that students prefer the mastery learning approach over traditional methods. Although a clear consensus on the effect of the mastery learning approach could not be achieved as each article applied different survey instruments to capture students’ perspectives. Responses to open-ended questions have mixed results. Two studies report more positive student comments on opened-ended questions, while one study report receiving more negative comments regarding the implementation of the mastery learning method. In the full paper we more thoroughly describe the ways in which mastery learning was implemented along with clear examples of common and divergent student outcomes across the twelve studies.  more » « less
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Zone 1 Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education
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National Science Foundation
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