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Development Of An On Line System To Help Students Successfully Solve Statics Problems

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Teaching Statics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

14.480.1 - 14.480.17



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Paper Authors


John Dannenhoffer Syracuse University

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Dr. John Dannenhoffer is an Associate Professor of Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering at Syracuse University. He earned BS & ME degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an ScD in Computational Fluid Dynamics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research interests include applied computational geometry, computational fluid dynamics, collaborative engineering design, and computer-assisted teaching methods.

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Joan Dannenhoffer State University of New York, Morrisville

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Joan V. Dannenhoffer, PE, is an Associate Professor of Physics at SUNY - Morrisville State College. She received a BS in Civil Engineering
and an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a MS in Environmental Engineering from the University of Connecticut. Her research interests are in engineering education and learning models.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

An Online System to Help Students Successfully Solve Statics Problems


Engineering Statics is often the first core engineering course that many students take. Most students do not find it to be conceptually difficult, but are often overwhelmed by the myriad of small decisions that they must get correct if they are going to successfully solve a problem. Too often, this causes a student to question if he/she should continue to study engineering. Described herein is an online computerized leaning system, called ARCHIMEDES, which helps students overcome the major obstacles to success in Statics. The system allows the student to draw free- body diagrams and write free-form equilibrium equation in the same way as they would with paper and pencil. At key times in the process, the system assesses the student's work and gives immediate feedback on the correctness, completeness, and consistency of his/her solution. The instant feedback allows students to correct errors early and avoid the fruitless efforts that result from errors made during the early parts of a solution. A pilot study has been conducted to quantitatively assess the effectiveness of the new system in helping students successfully solve problems in Statics; over 65% of the students felt that ARCHIMEDES helped build their confidence in solving Statics problems. Additionally, 65% of the students also felt that using ARCHIMEDES would help them improve their grade and half wanted to have it available for the remainder of the semester.


Engineering mechanics, comprised of Statics, Dynamics, and Mechanics of Materials, is a sequence of lower-division courses that are the first real problem-solving courses that many engineering students encounter. Most students do not find these courses to be conceptually difficult; they sit in lecture and feel that they understand all the material, but are unsuccessful in applying the methods on their own to new problems. They are often overwhelmed by the many small decisions that they must get correct in order for them to successfully solve a problem. The resulting frustration often causes a student to question if he/she should continue to study engineering.

In many universities, Statics is taught almost the same way today as it was nearly two decades ago. A typical Statics course consists of lectures given by a professor, in which the students are given the fundamental tools and techniques; lectures often include the solution of sample problems. Recitation sessions follow, in which students practice solving problems, with an instructor available for help when requested. Students then are supposed to hone their skills by solving several problems (from the book) for homework. Several changes have been proposed to these methods1,2, with varying degrees of success.

After teaching Statics for several semesters, it became clear that sometimes homeworks helped students as intended (usually for the good students). Unfortunately other students rarely completed the problems satisfactorily. When questioned why their work was incomplete, the students would often say: “I didn’t know what to do”. After further questioning, it became

Dannenhoffer, J., & Dannenhoffer, J. (2009, June), Development Of An On Line System To Help Students Successfully Solve Statics Problems Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5415

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