All Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE), AISHE-C 2008: Encouraging Student Engagement

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Interventions in Mechanics -a study on home-based problem-solving
Richard Good, Michael Carr

Last modified: 2009-01-22


Mechanics is a core subject for first year Mechanical Engineering technician students in Dublin Institute of Technology. Recent years have shown significant increases in student diversity, with extremes of high and low points, with and without a background of Physics or Applied Maths, combined with an increasing proportion of non-traditional entrants.
Mechanics is presented as a sequential number of discrete topics, but there are actually numerous interdependent elements and strands involved. Study of principles and examples is not usually sufficient - it is also advisable that problem-solving be practiced. Then each student can be given feedback and assistance at his/her own level, and diversity of ability or prior knowledge can be addressed more easily than in a class context. However many students now work part-time and have poor attendance records, and are not engaging with this essential practice.
So a pilot study of providing tutorial problem sets to students to be completed at home and in their own time is being assessed. Two cohorts of students are compared, a larger group of 50 students with higher average points, and a smaller group of 15 students with lower average points. Both groups have the same tutor, similar syllabi and examination standard. Both groups are given a series of revision tutorial problem sets. For the larger group the sets are optional with no marks assigned, on the basis that solutions submitted will be corrected and returned. However, for the smaller group the sets are compulsory, with a small percentage of marks assigned. This latter group is given a week to complete the sets, with the single proviso that solutions be handwritten. In both cases students are encouraged to seek individual advice from a tutor.
Results are examined and discussed, and the two groups compared, with a statistical analysis of any effects on subsequent exam results. A reflective online survey is also given to both groups, and results presented. Key questions addressed include attitudes to homework, the usefulness of problem-solving in overall subject comprehension, and the significance of assigned marks as an incentive.


basic mechanics;tutorials; homework;student diversity