Understanding the impacts of extra credit modules on students' learning experience in a 100-level electrical and computer engineering course

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This Complete Evidence-based practice paper investigates students' perceptions regarding the presence of two extra credit (EC) modules on parallel computing topics in an introductory electrical and computer engineering course. Prior work investigating these EC modules showed a high participation rate (48-60%) across and high performance (80-88%) on the end-of-module EC quiz across three semesters [1]. The presence of extra credit has long been a topic of discussion in education, gaining strong arguments both for and against its inclusion in curriculum. Those opposed to extra credit cite ethical concerns related to grade inflation and question the utility of providing students with extra work that is not distributed as a traditional assignment. However, prior work has suggested that EC, when carefully designed, can have affordance such as motivating additional learning. This paper seeks to extend the previous, quantitative findings relating to these parallel computing EC modules by investigating students' motivations for completing or not completing the modules, as well as impacts on anxiety, effort, and learning. In doing so we seek to understand the affordances and drawbacks of extra credit in an effort to provide further insight into how to effectively design and deploy EC in introductory engineering courses. A survey, consisting of a mix of five-point Likert items and short answer questions, was distributed to a large introductory electrical and computer engineering course across two semesters gaining 105 responses. The Likert questions related to: 1) students' motivations for completing the extra credit, 2) perceived learning gains from extra credit opportunities, 3) interest generated in the topics EC assignments covered, and 4) the relationship between anxiety and the presence of EC in the course. Survey responses for a set of short answer questions were analyzed with multiple rounds of inductive coding. In cases where a large number of related codes emerged, axial coding methods were used to extract thematic groups. The following are results from the Likert questions and analysis of the corresponding short response questions. For those respondents who did complete the EC modules, the primary motivations they identified were: 1) maximizing their grade either by supplementing their current grade or protecting it from potential deductions in the future, 2) exploring new concepts, and 3) the approachability of the assessments due to their perceived low difficulty level and time requirements. Similarly, among those respondents who did not complete the EC modules, they stated a lack of time and no need for the extra points as the primary reasons. Students overwhelmingly indicated through their Likert responses that they were willing to put large amounts of effort into extra credit assignments even in cases where they were only worth a few points. When asked about the factors that influence that effort, responses expanded upon the notion of'grade protection' with some responses indicating that, if the time and points were sufficient, they were willing to dedicate large amounts of effort to the assignment. In particular, to protect against falling below particular grade boundaries (e.g., B+ vs A-). Related to this, when students were asked about the relationship between anxiety and the presence of extra credit, though the majority indicated through Likert responses that it had no negative impact, several suggested that the increase or protection in grade that the EC provides reduced their anxiety. With that said, a few did indicate that they either felt stress while completing the EC quiz or some stress immediately prior to beginning the quiz. In terms of the impact of parallel computing EC modules on students' interest in those concepts, responses were evenly split between no impact and some degree of positive impact, with no participants reporting a negative impact. Those who felt it had a positive impact mentioned enjoying the opportunity to engage with a new concept and that opportunity increased their interest in that topic. When asked to reflect on what aspects of the assignments they found interesting and why, students' responses contained themes such as gaining further insight into and extending their knowledge of more fundamental concepts they had learned previously. Furthermore, several mentioned enjoying the authentic, “real-world” feel of the tasks with which they were presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 25 2023
Event2023 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - The Harbor of Engineering: Education for 130 Years, ASEE 2023 - Baltimore, United States
Duration: Jun 25 2023Jun 28 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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