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Exploring Conceptual Understanding in Heat Transfer: A Qualitative Analysis

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids, and Heat Transfer II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Amy L. Hermundstad Virginia Tech

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Amy Hermundstad is a doctoral student and Graduate Teaching Assistant at Virginia Tech. She received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University and is currently pursuing a Master of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education.

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Thomas E. Diller Virginia Tech

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Tom Diller was a Hertz Fellow at MIT, which culminated in a Doctor of Science degree in 1977. After working at Polaroid Corporation for several years, he has been teaching mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech for over 35 years. His current research focuses on the development and use of new instrumentation for measuring heat transfer. Applications include high-temperature unsteady flows, such as found in gas turbine engines and for non-invasively measuring blood perfusion in the human body. He continues to work to transition research results to industrial and laboratory applications and has published well over one hundred papers in areas encompassing heat transfer, fluid flow, biomedical engineering and instrumentation. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate heat transfer courses with approximately 300 students per year. This encompasses computer usage in class and active learning innovations. He has directed over 30 PhD dissertations and M.S. theses. He spent the summer of 1995 at NASA Lewis Research Center working on several experiments in gas turbine heat transfer. He was on sabbatical during the 2002-2003 academic year in the turbomachinery lab at the Swiss Federal Institute in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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Christopher B. Williams Virginia Tech

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Professor Dr. Chris Williams is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is the director of the Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Laboratory.

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Holly M. Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Dr. Matusovich is an Assistant Professor and Assistant Department Head for Graduate Programs in Virginia Tech’s Department of Engineering Education. She has her doctorate in Engineering Education and her strengths include qualitative and mixed methods research study design and implementation. She is/was PI/Co-PI on 8 funded research projects including a CAREER grant. She has won several Virginia Tech awards including a Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Faculty. Her research expertise includes using motivation and related frameworks to study student engagement in learning, recruitment and retention in engineering programs and careers, faculty teaching practices and intersections of motivation and learning strategies. Matusovich has authored a book chapter, 10 journal manuscripts and more than 50 conference papers.

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Research shows that engineering students struggle to understand concepts in certain core engineering courses such as heat transfer. Students may be able to solve specific problems by following a sequence of steps (referred to a procedural knowledge), but often lack conceptual knowledge, or deep understanding of concepts and the relationships among concepts. Yet it is this conceptual knowledge that can help students transition from novice to expert in a domain. Ideally, procedural and conceptual knowledge are developed in an iterative process where increases in one type of knowledge lead to increases in the other. To determine the extent to which students balance the development of conceptual and procedural knowledge, prior studies examined the way in which students described their approaches to learning in statics courses. The current research expands on this prior work by examining the relationship between students' approaches to learning and their conceptual understanding of heat transfer material. We compared students in two sections of a heat transfer course: the experimental section had a hands-on workshop in addition to lectures, and the control section consisted of lectures only.

As part of a larger study examining student motivation and conceptual change, a multiple case study approach was utilized. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with students towards the end of a semester-long heat transfer course. Interviews were coded to identify 1) learning approaches focused on developing conceptual or procedural knowledge, and 2) students’ conceptual knowledge of the heat transfer material.

All participants in the study discussed learning approaches that were aimed at developing procedural knowledge. Some students discussed balanced learning approaches focused on developing both conceptual and procedural knowledge, while other students primarily discussed approaches focused on developing procedural knowledge. We compared the learning approaches and the conceptual knowledge of students who were in the workshop section to students who were not. When taking into account students’ learning styles, students in the workshop demonstrated more conceptual knowledge than those students who had similar learning approaches but were not in the workshop section. Additionally, the students in the workshop section were able to define terms more conceptually, while the students who were not in the workshop struggled to define the terms.

Hermundstad, A. L., & Diller, T. E., & Williams, C. B., & Matusovich, H. M. (2016, June), Exploring Conceptual Understanding in Heat Transfer: A Qualitative Analysis Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26845

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