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No Numbers: Concepts Based Testing In Engineering

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Statics and Dynamics: What's New

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.908.1 - 14.908.9



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Paper Authors

author page

Joseph Walchko United States Military Academy

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

No Numbers -- Concepts Based Testing in Engineering


Emphasis on conceptual learning, instead of fact storing and memorization, is prominent in engineering curricula. A “no numbers” methodology is presented and discussed with focus on conceptual instruction and testing. This “no numbers” methodology is used and evaluated in an undergraduate dynamics course. Student feedback and examination scores suggest that this methodology is an excellent means to stress and then test concepts within a dynamics course. The students agree that their conceptual knowledge increases when both course instruction and exams utilize the “no numbers” methodology. Exam scores also increase when this methodology is applied throughout the entire course (classroom instruction, in-class example problems, homework problems, and exams). While the “no numbers” methodology is successful in an undergraduate dynamics course, further application of the methodology to other engineering courses seems promising.

1. Introduction

Conceptual learning is commonplace in current engineering education curriculum. Students taught to develop a conceptual understanding of various aspects within a particular engineering course will be more proficient at problem solving and abstract reasoning. They will be able to generalize their knowledge to new situations and more likely to make connections to related information 1. Contrary to conceptual learning is rote, or non-meaningful learning, which emphasizes a skill acquisition approach with few provided relationships between skills2. Prince and Vigeant noted that students are frequently able to solve problems that have been explicitly taught, but are unable to apply course concepts to solve real problems not seen in class3. The majority of engineering educators, given the choice, should prefer that their students understand the engineering concepts and relationships which could be applied to a vast number of designs and problems and across multiple disciplines within engineering. From the learning theory of constructivism and ideas of Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, comes a theory of how to teach science, known as the scientific learning cycle. The scientific learning cycle consists of three phases: exploration, term introduction, and concept application4. Considerable evidence is present stating that this scientific learning cycle is more effective in teaching science than other traditional methods. This same learning cycle is applied in engineering curriculum as well. In the third phase, concept application, students apply knowledge across a variety of problems and disciplines. Many in the engineering education community adopt and use conceptual learning techniques to enhance the students’ understanding in a particular discipline. Darmofal, Soderholm, and Brodeur applied concept maps and concept questioning to enhance conceptual understanding in aeronautics and astronautics courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology5. Yap and Wong assessed conceptual learning at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 6. Brodeur, Young, and Blair utilized problem based learning as a form of conceptual learning in the aeronautics and astronautics curriculum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology7. This paper presents a methodology for instruction and testing in an engineering course based on conceptual learning techniques. The examinations within an undergraduate dynamics course (and many of the homework problems) contain no numbers, only variables, forcing the student to

Walchko, J. (2009, June), No Numbers: Concepts Based Testing In Engineering Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4851

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