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Student Use Of Textbook Solution Manuals: Student And Faculty Perspectives In A Large Mechanical Engineering Department

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Improving ME education: Broad Topics

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1168.1 - 11.1168.9



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Paper Authors


Kim Shollenberger California Polytechnic State University

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Kim Shollenberger received her Ph.D. in 1994 from the University of California at Berkeley. She then worked for eight years at Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM, before joining the faculty at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, as an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Currently she teaches thermodynamics, heat transfer, and fluid mechanics. Her research is in the area of multiphase flows and computational modeling of thermal-fluid systems.

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James Widmann California Polytechnic State University

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Jim Widmann is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He received his Ph.D. in 1994 from Stanford University. Currently he teaches mechanics and design courses. He conducts research in the areas of design optimization, machine design, fluid power control and engineering education.

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

Student use of Textbook Solution Manuals: Student and Faculty Perspectives in a Large Mechanical Engineering Department


Anecdotal evidence indicates that Mechanical Engineering students have unprecedented access to textbook solutions manuals, and possibly a large percentage of students regularly refer to these manuals when working graded homework assignments. Many faculty voice concerns regarding the ethics of this behavior and its affect on student learning; however, the prevalence of the solutions manual usage and its effects on learning are not well documented. To better understand how students use solutions manuals, a survey was submitted to undergraduate students and faculty of the Mechanical Engineering Department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, as part of a larger study on the effects of solution manual access on student learning. The methodology emulates earlier studies at M.I.T.1 and Georgia Tech2 that addressed student perceptions of cheating. This survey was administered in a number of required courses, with multiple sections that are typically offered every quarter at Cal Poly. The goal of this survey was to determine the incidence rate of solution manual use and student perceptions on the ethics and educational value of using the solution manuals when working homework assignments. Faculty perceptions were also tabulated using a similar survey. Quantitative results are presented along with an assessment of interactions between student perceptions and their use of the solution manuals.


California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo’s College of Engineering has approximately 4600 undergraduate students, with about 1000 students enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering (ME) Department. The ME Department has 34 full-time faculty including tenure-track professors and lecturers and offers approximately 30 different courses each quarter, many with multiple sections. A defining feature of the Cal Poly approach to engineering education is giving the students many laboratory intensive, “hands-on” experiences coupled with small lecture class sizes (usually less than 36 students). These small lecture classes are to encourage close interactions between instructors and students. A typical junior or senior level class consists of three 50-minute lectures and one three-hour lab experience per week. An introductory class such as Statics, Dynamics, or first courses in Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics consist of only the lecture portion. The introductory classes are often required courses for students in other departments. Due to the large number of students and small class sizes, it is not unusual for the ME department to offer five to eight sections of Statics or Dynamics with two to four different instructors each quarter. The major objectives of these introductory courses are to impart an understanding of the theoretical basics of applied physics and instill in the students a formalized problem solving process. For the majority of the introductory courses, assigned homework is the prime mechanism of problem solving practice. This method of assigned and collected homework persists throughout the curriculum into the higher level classes that have the laboratory component. The usual source of the homework problems is the assigned textbook for the course. This is the most expedient method of

Shollenberger, K., & Widmann, J. (2006, June), Student Use Of Textbook Solution Manuals: Student And Faculty Perspectives In A Large Mechanical Engineering Department Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--432

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