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An Innovative Solution to Teaching the Principle of Virtual Work

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Civil Engineering Division Technical Session 9

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.190.1 - 26.190.13



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Paper Authors


Heather Annette Sustersic Pennsylvania State University

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Heather Sustersic, P.E., is a Research Associate in the Architectural Engineering Department at The Pennsylvania State University. She teaches senior-level structural engineering analysis and design courses in addition to advising students in their senior thesis projects and conducting scientific research in designing buildings for tornado resistance.

Mrs. Sustersic is passionate about increasing student engagement and encouraging deep understanding to develop in her students. She incorporates a variety of demonstration materials (both traditional and non-traditional) and interactive activities into her lecture-based delivery format.

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Caroline June Klatman Pennsylvania State University

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Caroline Klatman is a teaching intern within The Architectural Engineering Department at The Pennsylvania State University. Under the advisement of Professor Heather Sustersic, she assists in enhancing course material. Her responsibilities often include revising lecture content, incorporating code updates into class material, aiding students in understanding course concepts, and creating homework assignments and solutions. Ms. Klatman is able to use her personal experience as a student to offer practical advice into effective educational strategies.

In May, 2015, Ms. Klatman will graduate with integrated Bachelor of Architectural Engineering/Master of Architectural Engineering degrees.

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An Innovative Solution to Teaching the Principle of Virtual WorkProviding a balance of abstract theory and concrete practical application, in a manner thatencourages active learning, when teaching structural engineering courses is an ongoing challengefor educators2,3. Student learning styles and attitudes toward their education vary considerably,even within a small group of individuals. While procedural learners rely on memorization offacts and a surface understanding of the concepts, other learners are interested in a deeperunderstanding and being able to provide context to the material1. Each type of learner hasdifferent needs which must be addressed when delivering course content. Adding furthercomplexity to this issue, even the most passionate student has difficulty focusing for the fullduration of a 75 minute lecture. Focus problems are exacerbated by general fatigue experiencedby students enrolled in rigorous engineering programs, where there are high expectations forstudent work completed outside of instructional contact hours. Educators must thus be vigilantin monitoring the level of interest they engender in their students during lectures4.One solution is to develop demonstrations to accompany traditional lecture materials whichencourage students to interact and engage in hands-on learning. This study explores theeffectiveness of providing a physical truss demonstration, accompanied by a traditionalpresentation, to teach the abstract concept of work-energy methods for determining nodaldeflections in truss structures.A group of 24 students, enrolled in a 400-level indeterminate structural analysis course, wereinvited to participate in the pilot research study. Students received a background lecture in work-energy methods for computing deflections the week before the study began, and were assignedrelevant readings in their course textbook to be completed before attending the study, similar to aflipped classroom.The study began with a brief presentation of the principle of virtual work for trusses after whichthe students were divided into two groups. Group 1 witnessed a lecture example worked forthem in a traditional lecture format. Group 2 participated in an interactive demonstration using acustom-fabricated truss model capable of displaying measurable axial member elongation andshortening (Figure 1-3). Students took turns reading measurements, calculating values, andloading/unloading the model.After viewing the first demonstration, all students took a timed quiz to evaluate their initialunderstanding of the material. The students then switched rooms, viewed the alternate stylepresentation, and re-took the quiz. Students also completed a survey to rank the perceivedbenefits of each instruction method.Group 1 initial quiz scores were slightly higher than their Group 2 counterparts, but theparticipant-wide initial quiz average was a low “C”. After receiving the second type ofinstruction, the combined average quiz score increased by 24%. Students in Group 2 scoredslightly higher on the second quiz than did students in Group 1. This suggests that it is thecombination of teaching approaches that increases proficiency. This research is ongoing, withstudent retention to be evaluated later this year.Figure 1: Truss model used for virtual work interactive class demonstration (16" wide x 8" tall). Each truss member is capableof +/- 1” of elongation. The left support is idealized as a pin; the right support as a roller. Figure 2: Close-up view of spring dashpot truss axial member (center vertical member shown here) Figure 3: Close-up view of right roller supportBibliography1. Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (2005). Understanding Student Differences. The Journal of Engineering Education, 57-72.Felder, R. M., Woods, D. R., Stice, J. E., & Rugarcia, A. (2000). The Future Of Engineering Education. Chem. Engr. Education, 26-39.Goodhew, P. J. (2010). Teaching Engineering: All You Need to Know About Engineering Education but were Afriad to Ask. UK Centre for Materials Education.Litzinger, T. A., Lattuca, L. R., Hadgraft, R. G., & Newstetter, W. C. (2011). Engineering Education and the Development of Expertise. Journal of Engineering Education, 123-150.

Sustersic, H. A., & Klatman, C. J. (2015, June), An Innovative Solution to Teaching the Principle of Virtual Work Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23529

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