CLIMB-UP: Commitment to Learning Instilled by Mastery-Based Undergraduate Program

Overview of Project

This project aims to improve teaching and learning by applying Mastery-Based Grading in key gateway courses (i.e., Statics, Strength of Materials, Embedded Programming I) at a Hispanic-Serving Institution and build fundamental research on engaging student learning, growth mindset, achievement motivational goals, and engineering identity development.

CLIMB-UP Objectives:

(1) Redesign courses using mastery-based grading to improve rates of transfer and course completion for sophomore engineering “gateway” courses, which include Statics, Strength of Materials, and Embedded Programming I
(2) Understand changes in students’ academic profiles which include: attitudes toward learning, confidence as learners, mindsets, and engineering identity, and
(3) Create a sustainable, multi-institutional faculty learning community and training program for future faculty to utilize mastery-based grading.

Fundamental Research on Students’ Academic Profiles:

Engineering students enrolling in the selected second-year gateway courses will not have had prior experience in a mastery-based learning environment. There is a dearth of scholarship examining first-generation college students as academic learners, specifically noting that scholars focusing on first-generation college students are “often not anchoring their research within the contexts where learning is taking place (courses, disciplines, etc.).” Most studies on first-generation college students focus on why they are motivated to pursue a college degree or focus on support interventions outside the classroom setting. While those efforts are important, studies examining pedagogical learning interventions (e.g., mastery-based learning) that promote academic achievement for first-generation college students remain sparse. Learning environments, including teaching practices support achievement motivation and engagement.

Within the context of a mastery-based learning environment, much of the research has been largely focused on the K-12 setting, with some exceptions. To date, no study has focused on the effect a mastery-based learning environment has on a predominately first-generation college student sample or how such a learning environment helps engineering first-generation college students endorse goal orientations that promote positive achievement motivation strategies, identity development, and disposition towards persistence. Achievement goal theory is a prominent theoretical framework in achievement motivation, yet there is a dearth of research using this framework through the lens of a predominantly minoritized student population.

To address this gap in the literature and expand achievement motivation theory using a majority minority student population, the objective of this research study is two-fold:

1) empirically examine first-generation college students’ shift in achievement motivation, engagement, and attitudes about their abilities to learn and persist as a result of participating in a mastery learning course and

2) examine the long-term effect of participating in a mastery learning course on first-generation college students’ academic profile and their perceptions of their ability to persist. In this project students’ academic profile is conceptualized as their composite views of their personal factors as it relates to their academic achievement. 

Broader Impact

Through the CLIMB project we will develop a hybrid faculty development course for using Mastery-Based Grading, which will be made available to faculty in our institutions through the Center for Teaching and Learning and will be made useful to other institutions via a public website and other channels as discussed in our dissemination plan. We will enhance institutional effective teaching and learning capacity at all three institutions through faculty development activities and faculty learning community; guides for managing the change process will be produced and disseminated to other minority-serving institutions.

NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI Programs)- Implementation and Evaluation Project