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Advancing Computational Knowledge and Skill Through Computing Projects in Sophomore-level Mechanics Courses

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Using Technology to Support Learning in Mechanics

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Paper Authors


Keith D. Hjelmstad Arizona State University

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Keith D. Hjelmstad is President's Professor of Civil Engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University.

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Amie Baisley University of Florida

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I have a M.S. in structural engineering from Arizona State University and a Ph.D. in engineering education from Utah State University. My teaching and research interests are centered around the sophomore level courses that engineering students take and how changes in those courses can impact student learning and retention.

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The desire to graduate students with more advanced computational knowledge has become a hot topic in curriculum design. One route to do that is through integration of computing across a curriculum, and there are no better courses to start with than the foundational mechanics courses (statics, dynamics, and solid mechanics). The implementation of computing projects in the sophomore level courses have resulted in computing becoming an integral part of those courses. This shift has changed the mindset in both students and faculty, greatly expanding the types of problems that students can explore at the sophomore level. Computing projects offer the ability to introduce more open-ended problems in the mechanics courses where students can think about certain concepts more deeply. It also provides the opportunity to introduce important concepts of numerical analysis in a way that makes those techniques immediately relevant. The projects also provide an opportunity for students to get more creative, in courses often viewed as skill development, by seeking means to verify their codes and then use those codes to explore the target problem without the encumbrance of hand calculations. Requiring that each student write a full technical report for each project pushes the students to make connections between theory and results and it gives the instructor a window into the depth of their learning. Each of the three courses requires four to six computing projects during a semester that involve problem formulation, coding in MATLAB, exploration using the code, and a writing a final report. The level of inquiry and documentation for each project goes far beyond what we typically see in the standard handwritten problem solutions that have long been the stock and trade of these courses. Each course has its own unique set of projects that focus on various mechanics concepts. The paper will discuss the types of projects implemented and examples of student work for each one.

Hjelmstad, K. D., & Baisley, A. (2021, July), Advancing Computational Knowledge and Skill Through Computing Projects in Sophomore-level Mechanics Courses Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36656

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