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Creating Problem Taxonomies for WeBWorK in Mechanical Engineering

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Division Technical Session 8

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Agnes Germaine d'Entremont P.Eng. University of British Columbia, Vancouver Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Agnes d’Entremont, P.Eng., is an Instructor and the Mech 2 Coordinator in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UBC. Her teaching-related interests include team-based learning, flipped classroom approaches, open educational materials, and educating non-engineers about engineering, as well as diversity and climate issues in engineering education. Her technical research in Orthopaedic Biomechanics is in the area of human joint motion and cartilage health, with a particular focus on pediatric hip disorders and MRI-based methods.

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Juan Abelló P.Eng. University of British Columbia, Vancouver

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Juan Abelló, Ph.D., P.Eng, is an Instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Vantage One program at the University of British Columbia. His teaching interests include the integration of engineering science and design with language instruction. His technical research is in rotorcraft blade-vortex interaction (BVI) noise reduction.

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WeBWorK is an open-source, online homework system widely used in mathematics at the post-secondary level, with a number of institutions developing WeBWorK problems for use in engineering.  The WeBWorK Open Problem Library (OPL) contains around 33,000 problems that are freely available to instructors to use within their courses (currently, around 200 mechanical engineering problems are available).  The OPL problems are organized under a taxonomy structure of “subject”, “chapter”, and “section”, where subject is an area of study (e.g. linear algebra, probability, etc.), and chapter and section locate a particular problem within the subject (e.g. linear algebra – matrices – inverses), analogous to a textbook structure.  Having an easily understandable and comprehensive taxonomy available makes it simpler for contributors to correctly designate their new problems, and for instructor-users to find appropriate problems to assign to their students. 

While there are some engineering problems available on the OPL, the taxonomies are either not extensive (few problems) or do not truly adhere to the structure above.  As well, engineering instructors interested in building a few problems for their classes have the daunting task of creating a taxonomy structure in order to share them.  We have created comprehensive proposed taxonomies in three core mechanical engineering subjects (statics, dynamics, mechanics of materials) and a partial taxonomy in a fourth (vibrations) for discussion and approval, and eventual use by future contributors.  We have not found any literature that outlines practices for the creation of a new taxonomy, so we have documented our process and provide guidance for the creation of future OPL taxonomies in engineering.  Finally, we outline suggestions for the systematic use of searchable keywords in OPL problems that can provide consistency across engineering subject areas and institutions.  This work will lay the foundation for educators to more easily contribute to and utilize the growing body of open-source mechanical engineering problems in WeBWorK.  

d'Entremont, A. G., & Abelló, J. (2018, June), Creating Problem Taxonomies for WeBWorK in Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30237

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