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Increasing Conceptual Understanding in an Engineering Core Course using a Statics Visualization Program

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Teaching Statics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.733.1 - 24.733.9



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Paper Authors


Orval Powell USAF Academy

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Lt Col Rusty Powell is currently an Assistant Professor of Engineering Mechanics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University, M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, and Ph.D. in Engineering (Mechanical Specialty) from the Colorado School of Mines. He has worked in a variety of engineering positions within the Air Force, ranging from hypersonic systems research to aircraft sustainment to space acquisitions. His research has primarily focused on hypersonics and combustion.

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Michael Richards U.S. Air Force Academy


Daniel D. Jensen U.S. Air Force Academy

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DR. DAN JENSEN is currently a Professor of Engineering Mechanics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, M.S. in Engineering Mechanics and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has worked as a practicing engineer for Texas Instruments, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs and MSC Software Corp., as well as various consulting and expert witness positions. He also held a faculty position at University of the Pacific and is an adjunct faculty member at University of Texas, Austin. He has received numerous professional awards including a NASA Post-Doctorial Fellowship, ASEE Best Paper Awards, the ASME Most Innovative Curriculum Award, the Ernest L. Boyer - International Award for Excellence in Teaching, the US Air Force Academy Seiler Award for Excellence in Engineering Research and the Outstanding Academy Educator Award. He has published over 100 technical articles and generated approximately $3.5 million of research; all at institutions with no graduate program. His research includes development of innovative design methodologies and enhancement of engineering education. The design methodology research focuses on development and testing of strategies to enhance effectiveness of prototyping, improve design flexibility and advance reverse engineering and redesign processes. The educational research focuses on development and assessment of active learning (particularly hands-on) approaches to enhance education in engineering.

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Nicholas Matthew Brown United States Air Force Academy

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My name is Nick Brown and I am a Cadet at the United States Air Force Academy. I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering and am excited to pursue a career in engineering. I am especially interested in bio-mechanical engineering and hope to go to grad school to further this interest.

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Increasing Conceptual Understanding in an Engineering Core Course using a Statics Visualization ProgramInstructors and students of upper-level engineering courses often use software inside and outsideof the classroom to solve problems. However, software is less frequently used in lower-levelcourses. One likely reason for this lack of use in lower-level courses is the concern that studentsmay avoid manual solution of problems and thereby fail to develop foundational knowledge andproper problem solving approaches. This research attempts to answer whether in-classroom useof certain analysis software deepens student conceptual understanding and critical thinking in afoundational engineering course.Researchers have shown that using multi-media demonstrations of technical concepts inintroductory engineering is helpful in developing understanding, but they caution againstproviding too many details related to theory in an introductory course. Historically, when thetechnology to visualize both the calculations and the results in a real-time, classroomenvironment did not exist, these researchers focused exclusively on visualizing the resultingforce distribution or deformations and not on the process used to determine those results.The design of the current study involved comparing an experimental group (those who used thesoftware) with a control group. Each group consisted of two sections taught by two differentinstructors. The authors utilized the program ForceEffect produced by Autodesk in teachingFundamentals of Mechanics, EM220. The program augmented traditional, lecture-baseddiscussions as well as instructor hand derivations and examples in the classroom. The softwarealso allowed instructors to demonstrate “what if” types of questions with changes in appliedloads to specific problems discussed/taught in the classroom. Student performance on embeddedassessments (exams) were compared, and for cadets using the software, academic performanceshowed a positive correlation between using the software and exam performance. Finally,subjective feedback was gathered through the use of in-class feedback.By the end of the semester, cadets who demonstrated “success” in using this software performedbetter on conceptual understanding-based and application-based questions on the mid term andfinal exams. The benefit of utilizing the software was especially strong for the weaker studentsthat needed additional solutions and those students that were more visual learners. Thus, ourhypothosis that students with lower incoming GPAs might show better than predicted (based onGPA) performance was shown to be true.Jensen, D., Self, B., Rhymer, D., Wood, J., Bowe, M., “A rocky journey toward effectiveassessment of visualization modules for learning enhancement in Engineering Mechanics”,Educational Technology & Society, v5, n3, July, 2002.

Powell, O., & Richards, M., & Jensen, D. D., & Brown, N. M. (2014, June), Increasing Conceptual Understanding in an Engineering Core Course using a Statics Visualization Program Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20625

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