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Open-Ended Modeling Group Projects in Introductory Statics and Dynamics Courses

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Mechanics & Mechanics Related

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Emma Treadway Trinity University Orcid 16x16

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Emma Treadway received the B.S. degree in Engineering Science from Trinity University in 2011, and her M.S.E. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2017 and 2019, respectively. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Science at Trinity University, San Antonio. Her primary research interests include human-robot interaction and haptics.

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Jessica E.S. Swenson University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (CoE)

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Jessica Swenson is an Assistant Professor at the University at Buffalo. She was awarded her doctorate and masters from Tufts University in mechanical engineering and STEM education respectively, and completed postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan Her current research involves examining different types of homework problems in undergraduate engineering science courses, flexible classroom spaces, active learning, responsive teaching, and elementary school engineering teachers.

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Aaron W. Johnson University of Colorado Boulder

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Aaron W. Johnson is an Instructor in Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Prior to this he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan and the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. He received his Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014 and a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan in 2008.

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Title: Open-Ended Modeling Group Projects in Introductory Statics and Dynamics Courses

This Work-in-Progress paper studies student responses and practitioner reflections to a newly created type of homework problem. Traditionally, the types of problems that students see in their introductory statics courses are well-structured textbook problems with a single solution. The types of questions that students solve in these courses are often seen as being somewhat at-odds with the more “realistic” challenges that they may face in their design or lab courses. Additionally, in the current paradigm of mostly-online instruction, methods of assessment beyond traditional exams have become more crucial, both as a way of keeping students engaged by giving the material relevance and of ensuring that the work that they present is their own when so many solutions are available online.

Our research team has been studying the productive beginning of engineering judgement (Gainsburg, 2007) by creating and assigning Open-ended Modeling Problems (OEMPs). In these problems, students are faced with an ill-defined problem description that requires them to make and justify simplifying assumptions before they can apply the mathematical modeling or analysis tools that they have learned in class. The problems do not have a single correct answer, and students have to reason about what makes their models “good enough” for the problem that they are trying to solve. This paper examines a new implementation of OEMPs through assigning them as group projects. In Spring 2020, as classes moved online, the instructor of a first-year statics course decided to replace an exam by extending an OEMP from a homework assignment into a group project. Based on the perceived success of that implementation and the continuation of online courses, the same group of students will be given two OEMPs in the Fall 2020 semester of their follow-on dynamics course: one as a homework assignment, and one as a project. As we examine the outcomes of the OEMPs in these sequential courses, we ask: 1. When implementing an open-ended, ill-defined problem as a group project, how did students respond to this new and different type of problem? 2. What were the benefits or drawbacks of creating a group project?

Preliminary data suggests students appreciated the project in place of an exam but only some students thought the OEMPs were better than typical textbook problems. The paper will report student survey and interview data from both courses as well as reflections from the instructor about scaffolding and implementation of the problems. The results will build on our prior work on designing and scaffolding OEMPs that allow students to practice engineering judgement. Implications for this work include insights for creating new open-ended problems that challenge students and better prepare them for professional engineering practice.

Treadway, E., & Swenson, J. E., & Johnson, A. W. (2021, July), Open-Ended Modeling Group Projects in Introductory Statics and Dynamics Courses Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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