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Flexible Periods Allow for Combined Analytical and Laboratory Experiences Within an Introductory Mechanics Course

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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

Explorations in Mechanics Pedagogy

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.780.1 - 26.780.21



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Paper Authors


Shawn P. Gross Villanova University

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Dr. Shawn P. Gross is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University. He has as M.S.E. and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, and a B.S.E. degree from Tulane University. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on mechanics and structural design (reinforced concrete, structural steel, masonry, and wood).

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David W. Dinehart Villanova University

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Professor and Chairman
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Villanova University

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Flexible Periods Allow for Combined Analytical and Laboratory Experiences Within an Introductory Mechanics CourseIn 2009, the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at __________ Universityreinvented its course sequence in undergraduate mechanics. Classic courses in Statics,Mechanics of Solids, and Civil Engineering Materials were restructured into a two-coursesophomore-level sequence (Mechanics I and Mechanics II), and elements of Dynamics wereintegrated with Fluid Mechanics and the associated laboratory to form the junior-level courseMechanics III. These courses emphasize real-world applications and are taught using anintegrated approach. For example, the first course intersperses topics traditionally covered inStatics (such as truss analysis) with topics typically addressed in Mechanics of Solids (such asStress-Strain Relationships and Factor of Safety) rather than covering all of the Statics contentprior to Mechanics of Solids content. Using this approach, students are able to apply concepts tosolve larger, complex, and more interesting problems much earlier in the course.The new courses are each worth four credit hours and are scheduled to meet four times a week,including three 50-minute sessions and one 165-minute flexible or “flex” period. The flex periodis the cornerstone of the new curricula as it allows for several different teaching and learningstrategies that would not be possible in the shorter periods. These periods are specificallydesigned to be active learning sessions, which allow for better integration of individual conceptsto attain a higher level of application. While the 50-minute sessions involve short lectures andthe solution of multiple stand-alone problems, most of the flex periods are used for combinedanalytical and laboratory-type experiences that extend far beyond simple single-conceptproblems similar to those found in most textbooks. Other uses of the flex period includecomputation-based overarching problems1 that involve a series of independent butcomplementary calculation steps to solve a larger problem, and comprehensive examinations.This paper discusses how the flex periods are used in the Mechanics I course, and presentsdetails on several of the combined analytical and laboratory-type experiences used during theseperiods. Specific learning outcomes and organizational challenges for each exercise areidentified. Student feedback from multiple years of intra-semester and post-semester surveys ispresented. Administrative considerations such as faculty time requirements, course section sizes,and laboratory costs are also discussed.1. _______, _______, _______, and _______ (2011) "Overarching Problems in Sophomore Mechanics Courses", Proceedings of the 2011 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, June.

Gross, S. P., & Dinehart, D. W. (2015, June), Flexible Periods Allow for Combined Analytical and Laboratory Experiences Within an Introductory Mechanics Course Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24117

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