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Students' Conception and Application of Mechanical Equilibrium Through Their Sketches

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Curricular Innovations 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Nicole Johnson-Glauch University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Nicole received her B.S. in Engineering Physics at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in May 2013. She is currently working towards a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) under Professor Angus Rockett and Geoffrey Herman. Her research is a mixture between understanding defect behavior in solar cells and student learning in Materials Science. Outside of research she helps plan the Girls Learning About Materials (GLAM) summer camp for high school girls at UIUC.

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Geoffrey L. Herman University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Geoffrey L. Herman is a teaching assistant professor with the Deprartment of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also has a courtesy appointment as a research assistant professor with the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. He earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a Mavis Future Faculty Fellow and conducted postdoctoral research with Ruth Streveler in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. His research interests include creating systems for sustainable improvement in engineering education, conceptual change and development in engineering students, and change in faculty beliefs about teaching and learning. He serves as the Publications Chair for the ASEE Educational Research and Methods Division.

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This qualitative research paper describes an investigation into the reasoning and knowledge exhibited by engineering students while they sketch shear force diagrams. Sketching is an important part of engineering practice because it relies on the engineer to synthesize, organize, and communicate concepts. In this study, we investigate students’ reasoning about mechanical equilibrium as revealed through their conceptions of shear force as a material’s internal reaction to loading. This study can aid instructors as they decide how to help students understand these core concepts and engage with these sketching tasks. To understand students’ knowledge and reasoning during sketching, we conducted interviews with screen captures of the students’ sketches. Our research question in this study was how do students apply the concept of equilibrium during problem solving? We used constant comparative analysis with multiple coders to analyze the data. The theme that emerged from this study is that students believe that Equilibrium is Sum of External Forces = 0. This theme encompasses the diverse strategies students use when applying equilibrium in their sketches. A majority of the students apply equilibrium only by setting the sum of external forces to zero while solving for reaction forces. Most students fail to analyze the internal forces of the beam using “cuts” that would reveal shear force as distinct from the external forces applied to the beam.

Johnson-Glauch, N., & Herman, G. L. (2017, June), Students' Conception and Application of Mechanical Equilibrium Through Their Sketches Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28869

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