Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Enhancing the Mathematics Skills of Students Enrolled in Introductory Engineering Courses: Eliminating the Gap in Incoming Academic Preparation

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Enhancing the Mathematics Skills of Students Enrolled in Introductory Engineering Courses: Eliminating the Gap in Incoming Academic Preparation

Article excerpt

Abstract

Several studies strongly support the relationship between mathematics performance and retention of engineering students. There is also substantial evidence that nationally almost half of college freshmen could benefit from some mathematics remediation. The purpose of this study was to determine whether the use of WeBWorK as an instructional technology enhanced the mathematics skills of students enrolled in introductory engineering and engineering technology courses. Differences in mathematics performance of three intact groups were investigated with predicted freshman year grade point average as the covariate. Results suggest that WeBWorK helped eliminate the gap in incoming academic preparation between engineering and engineering technology users. Feedback from students indicates that WeBWorK is a valuable tool for refreshing basic mathematics skills and enhancing mathematics selfconfidence.

Several studies strongly support the relationship between mathematics performance and retention of engineering students. However, there is substantial evidence that nationally almost half of college freshmen could benefit from some mathematics remediation. Although gaps may exist in other subject areas, "the transition in mathematics is by far the most serious and the most problematic" (Kajander & Lovric, 2005, p. 150). Research conducted in the mid- 1980s revealed that roughly 46% of college students required mathematics remediation (Adelman, 1999; Dell-Amen & Rosenberg, 2002). A decade later Wieschenberg (1994) found that 40% of approximately 600,000 students in his study failed their first attempt at freshman calculus. A more recent study conducted in 2004 by Bahr (2010) found similar results: 40-46% of college students required some sort of remedial work, primarily in mathematics and English. Clearly, the problem has a history that spans decades with little evidence of amelioration.

The issue of mathematics preparation is especially problematic for engineering majors. For example, Brannan and Wankat (2005) found that almost three-fourths (73.4%) of the 49 institutions that participated in their study considered mathematics to be an area of weakness for their entering engineering students. According to Graff and Leiffer (2005), a "disturbing number of [engineering] students" (p. 13231) are not ready for calculus when they enter college, and the mistakes they make in subsequent courses are not due to deficiencies in their ability to do calculus but rather in their ability to do algebra. Increased reliability on calculators has also resulted in students' inability to manipulate numbers, do simple calculations in their heads, or estimate and gauge the appropriateness of their answers. However, Dunham and Dick (1994) found that American high school students who used graphing calculators performed as well as other students on standardized exams. Their research was replicated by Burrill et al (2002).

Buechler (2004) attributes the deficiency in mathematics to instruction received in high school or in former institutions and to lack of retention of material caused by poor study skills and/or time elapsed between instruction and application. He suggests that urban universities with relatively low admission requirements are particularly vulnerable to the issue of inadequate mathematics preparation of engineering students.

Several studies strongly support the relationship between mathematics performance and retention of engineering students. For example, Budny, Leuwerke, and Bjedov (1998) found that a major reason students leave engineering is because of difficulty with mathematics courses. Leuwerke, Robbins, Saywer, and Hovland (2004) found an interaction between low achievement in mathematics and student retention in engineering majors. Two studies conducted by Sami Fadali and colleagues (2000; 2001) revealed that students dropped out of engineering due to their lack of competency in mathematics. …

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