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Overcoming Barriers To Deliver A Quality Hands On Mechanics Of Materials Laboratory Course At A Distance

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.411.1 - 4.411.10

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Paper Authors

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David Alexander

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Ronald Smelser

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

Session 2663

Overcoming Barriers to Deliver a Quality Hands-on Mechanics of Materials Laboratory Course at a Distance David G. Alexander, Ronald E. Smelser University of Idaho


Traditionally, hands on skills have been taught in a laboratory environment where students work in groups to investigate scientific principles. This learning environment is rich in discussion and participation that can actively engage the student in his or her learning. Simulating this laboratory environment has been one of the biggest obstacles for distance education programs. The goal of this research was to develop a hands-on Mechanics of Materials Laboratory course for distance education. The resulting course was taught entirely over the Internet using computer-simulated experiments, online remote control software, email, and discussion groups with a focus on creating a student-centered learning environment. Students also conducted hands-on experiments using small scale testing equipment and participated in an on-campus activity in which larger more sophisticated testing equipment was used. The students’ understanding of the material and hands-on skills were as good as and in some areas better than traditional on-campus students. This research indicates that a distance laboratory course that incorporates multi-media computer experiments with hands-on exercises is as effective in teaching engineering laboratory skills as the traditional on-campus laboratory course.

I. Introduction

Through a State Board of Education grant, the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University has begun to develop a series of distance education courses1. These courses are unique in that they are adapted from traditional hands-on laboratory courses taught in Mechanics of Materials and Controls and Instrumentation. The first phase of the distance education program was to develop a pilot course in mechanics of materials and offer it to on-campus students. A new distance course was recently designed and offered to seven students during the 1998 fall semester.

The course is a one semester two-credit introduction to mechanics of materials in which students are exposed to fundamental theory through hands-on laboratory experimentation and observation. The traditional on-campus course includes six or seven laboratories in which each focuses on a topic in mechanics of materials. The course is designed to develop skill in instrumentation, data acquisition and analysis and proper laboratory record keeping and documentation. There is also an emphasis placed upon group communication and interaction throughout the course with the goal of developing good teamwork skills.

One of the most significant problems in developing the new distance courses was how to adequately deliver the hands-on portion of the class. A computer cannot simulate every aspect of a hands-on course. To overcome this, the laboratory activities were divided in to three types, a distance part or Distance-Lab, a take-home part or Lab-Kit, and an on-campus part or Lab-Camp.

Alexander, D., & Smelser, R. (1999, June), Overcoming Barriers To Deliver A Quality Hands On Mechanics Of Materials Laboratory Course At A Distance Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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