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From Remediation To Application: An Investigation Of Common Misconceptions Associated With Vector Analysis In An Undergraduate Biomechanics Course

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Pedagogical Developments in BME

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Page Count


Page Numbers

15.604.1 - 15.604.17



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Paper Authors


Sara Koehler Northwestern University

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SARA R. KOEHLER is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Northwestern University and a participant in the Graduate Teaching Certificate Program at Northwestern University's Searle Center for Teaching Excellence. Her research focuses on the biomechanics of transfemoral amputee gait.

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Wendy Murray Northwestern University

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WENDY M. MURRAY is an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, with joint appointments in Biomedical Engineering in the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the Feinberg School of Medicine. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate level biomechanics classes. Her research focuses on using biomechanics as a framework for understanding how we move and control our arms and hands.

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From Remediation to Application: An Investigation of Common Misconceptions Associated with Vector Analysis in an Undergraduate Biomechanics Course


Introduction to Biomechanics (BME 271) is a required course in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Northwestern University, covering basic concepts in rigid-body mechanics with applications in biology and physiology. Building on previous experience with vector analysis, Newtonian mechanics, and free-body diagrams, BME 271 is designed to provide sophomore engineering students with a foundation in statics and strength of materials in preparation for more advanced topics in dynamics and soft-tissue mechanics. In order to promote student engagement and knowledge transfer within our curriculum, we have recently incorporated several innovative teaching methods into our instruction base, including online courseware developed by the VaNTH ERC (Vanderbilt University; Northwestern University; University of Texas at Austin; and Health, Science and Technology at Harvard/MIT Engineering Research Center) for Bioengineering Educational Technologies1, Personal Response Systems (PRS) to enhance formative assessment, and challenge-based homework assignments to emphasize the application of fundamental engineering skills in biomechanics. The goal of this paper is to discuss our experience with these methods, highlighting how we have used PRS to systematically diagnose and address common misconceptions associated with prerequisite course material and guide our delivery of new concepts in order to improve learning outcomes.

1. Introduction

Over the past twenty years, undergraduate education in the field of biomedical engineering (BME) has undergone a period of rapid growth. Fueled partially by institutional grants made available by the Whitaker Foundation in the early 1990s, ABET-accredited BME programs have increased in number from 24 in 20032 to 60 in 20083. At the same time, technological advances have inspired tremendous diversity among these programs, exposing today’s BME students to a broader range of curricular objectives. To establish a strong program identity and to ensure that BME students share a common knowledge base, academic leaders have recently turned their attention toward developing a core undergraduate BME curriculum2-5. Among several recommended courses, biomechanics has been identified as an essential sub-discipline within a BME student’s education6-8.

At Northwestern University, Introduction to Biomechanics (BME 271) is a required course for all BME undergraduates. Compared to more conventional mechanics courses offered through sister departments, the goal of BME 271 is to anchor fundamental concepts in statics and strength of materials within the context of biology and physiology. Beginning in 2008, the instructional focus of BME 271 has been to replace traditional, lecture-based methods of teaching with a more challenge-driven approach. According to studies conducted by the VaNTH ERC8, 9, challenge-driven strategies promote active learning by creating environments that are learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered10. Since the introduction of these methods, we contend that one of the most challenging aspects of teaching BME 271 is helping students to transfer basic skills in math and science to novel

Koehler, S., & Murray, W. (2010, June), From Remediation To Application: An Investigation Of Common Misconceptions Associated With Vector Analysis In An Undergraduate Biomechanics Course Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16710

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