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Student assessment, Excel supported assignments


Background: This paper examines the use of a real-time feedback document to assist students in navigating design problems. The design problems are multi-step challenges that culminate in design specifications for a small system. Each problem can be solved using a predictable sequence of calculations. Students customize their specific problem by inserting their own performance parameters to develop a solution that is unique for each student.
Purpose: Two challenges associated with design problems are those of providing effective feedback to students and of grading final submissions that are unique to each student. The research described proposes the use of a structured Excel spreadsheet to allow students to enter unique numbers for their design project and receive real-time feedback to track the progress of their solution. Literature suggests that the proper implementation of real-time feedback serves to increase student learning and motivation. The focus of this paper is the deployment and verification of the use of a real-time feedback tool to allow students to check their individual numerical values as they proceed through a given design problem.
Design Method: Students are provided with a structured Excel spreadsheet with each design problem. The cover sheet of the file allows students to enter their specific performance parameters and check calculated design values based on their chosen performance criteria. Secure background sheets compare student values to expected solutions and indicate if the students’ solution values are within a specified tolerance (usually 1%) of the expected value. The spreadsheet provides a number of checkpoints along the way to the final solution to avoid the risk of carrying faulty numbers through the problem. The method is validated by results of student surveys to measure student persistence and engagement.
Results: Student surveys indicate that students find the spreadsheets provide valuable feedback and increase their persistence in solving the given design problems. From a faculty perspective, the increased effort by the students and the active feedback results in a simplified grading process. Both the prompt feedback and the structure of the feedback document are important. The design of the feedback document is critical in that it needs to provide sufficient feedback to keep the student on track, while also leaving enough gaps in the process to force the student to self-generate portions of the solution process.
Conclusions: Overall, the feedback documents allow the students to achieve a higher level of success by providing the necessary incentives to ensure their solution is proceeding along a correct path.






South Dakota State University


© American Society for Engineering Education, 2020. Posted with permission.