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Finite Element Learning Modules For Undergraduate Engineering Topics Using Commercial Software

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Outstanding Contributions to ME Education

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.610.1 - 13.610.34



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Paper Authors

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Ashland Brown University of the Pacific

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Joseph Rencis


Daniel Jensen U.S. Air Force Academy

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Dan Jensen is professor of engineering mechanics at the U.S. Air Force Academy where he has been since 1997. He received his B.S. (Mechanical Engineering), M.S. (Applied Mechanics) and Ph.D. (Aerospace Engineering Science) from the University of Colorado at Bolder. He has worked for Texas Instruments, Lockheed Martin, NASA, and University of the Pacific, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and MacNeal-Schwendler Corporation. His research includes development of innovative design methodologies and enhancement of engineering education.

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Chuan-Chiang Chen Tuskegee University

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Essam Ibrahim Tuskegee University

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Vladimir Labay Gonzaga University


Paul Schimpf Eastern Washington University

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Paul H. Schimpf received the B.S. E.E. (summa cum laude), M.S.E.E., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington, Seattle in 1982, 1987, and 1995, respectively. Dr. Schimpf began his academic career in 1998, and is currently Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, WA. His research interests include numerical methods for forward and inverse solutions to partial differential equations, with biomedical applications. Prior to his academic career, Dr. Schimpf was employed as a Senior Principal Design Engineer in the electronics industry, where he enjoyed 15 years of experience developing parallel embedded signal and image processing systems.

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

Finite Element Learning Modules for Undergraduate Engineering Topics using Commercial Software


Finite element learning modules have been developed for different undergraduate engineering courses using commercial software. The finite element method (FEM) or finite element analysis (FEA) is a numerical method widely used in industry to analyze and optimize design problems in broad areas of engineering by commercial firms. The primary goals of these learning modules is to provide undergraduate engineering students with new visually oriented insight into the concepts covered in their courses, basic knowledge in finite element theory, and the ability to apply commercial finite element software to typical engineering problems. The learning modules can be integrated into undergraduate courses that include mechanics of materials, vibrations, steady-state/transient heat transfer, fluid dynamics, biometrics, and electromagnetics. The learning modules can also be used in a stand-alone finite element course. Each learning module provides a common step-by-step guide for solving a problem and also includes solution verification. The learning modules will be accessible 24/7 on the World Wide Web later this year.

Faculty at six private and publically supported universities collaborated in this research. These faculty and their students have used and assessed the learning effectiveness of these modules. The development, educational, and analysis objectives are discussed for the finite element learning modules. The educational outcomes have been mapped to ABET Criterion 3 Program Outcomes for Engineering Programs41 so that an instructor can integrate an exercise into their in- house ABET assessment process. The primary assessment tool is a survey that students complete after they have used the learning module. The results from the assessment survey are correlated with the students’ Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and students’ learning style. Initial assessment results indicate that the learning modules are well received by the students and enhance the specific learning objectives set forth in each exercise. Correlation with MBTI and Learning Styles show some interesting initial results, but more data and analysis is needed before statistically significant conclusions can be drawn regarding these correlations. In addition, quizzes given before and after the tutorials were used to evaluate the tutorials’ effectiveness. The pre- and post-quizzes show that the tutorials are providing good learning experiences for the students and are an effective way for them to assimilate this difficult technical content. Assessment results are being used for continuous improvement of each finite element learning module over the three year duration of this project.

1. Introduction and Motivation

The finite element (FE) method is a numerical procedure that is widely used to analyze engineering problems in commercial engineering firms. It has become an essential and powerful analytical tool in designing products with ever-shorter development cycles6-8. At most universities teaching all but the most basic FE theory and applications has resided in graduate- level engineering programs using a number of FE texts15-17. In the past consulting firms found that they needed Ph.D. and M.S. engineering graduates to perform engineering analysis of their

Brown, A., & Rencis, J., & Jensen, D., & Chen, C., & Ibrahim, E., & Labay, V., & Schimpf, P. (2008, June), Finite Element Learning Modules For Undergraduate Engineering Topics Using Commercial Software Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3362

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