Using a competency-based instructional approach in thermodynamics

Brent Nelson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

5 Scopus citations


Many engineering classes are highly sequential, causing students that fail to grasp initial topics to struggle as courses progress. Despite instructor exhortations to master fundamental subjects, students often continue to struggle instead of investing the time to review. Because students do not proactively re-learn initial content, a competency-based approach was implemented in a highly sequential thermodynamics course. In the approach, students scoring below 80% on the first exam were required to pass an online review quiz in order to take subsequent exams. Only 3 out of 135 students were unable to take the second exam, but all were able to pass by the time of the third exam. Significant increases (p<0.01) were achieved in both the average course grade and average grade on the third (final) exam as compared to the previous offering of the course, with the average grade on the final exam rising from 66.5% to 74.0% and the overall course grade rising from 76.2% to 83.2%. The competency-based structure forced students to review fundamental material that is necessary both later within a course and in subsequent courses, and seems to particularly benefit the poorer performing students. This may have impacts on student retention and persistence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2013 Frontiers in Education Conference
Subtitle of host publicationEnergizing the Future, FIE 2013 - Proceedings
Number of pages3
StatePublished - 2013
Event43rd IEEE Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2013 - Oklahoma City, OK, United States
Duration: Oct 23 2013Oct 26 2013

Publication series

NameProceedings - Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE
ISSN (Print)1539-4565


Other43rd IEEE Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2013
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityOklahoma City, OK


  • Competency
  • Persistence
  • Student success

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Education
  • Computer Science Applications


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