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Teaching The Superposition Method With Internet Based Instructional Software

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Improving Mechanics of Materials Classes

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1201.1 - 9.1201.14



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Paper Authors

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Richard Hall

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Nancy Hubing

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Vikas Yellamraju

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Ralph Flori

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Timothy Philpot

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

Session 2468

Teaching the Superposition Method With Internet-based Instructional Software

Timothy A. Philpot, Richard H. Hall, Ralph E. Flori, Nancy Hubing, and Vikas Yellamraju

University of Missouri – Rolla


In the Mechanics of Materials course, one method used to determine beam deflections and support reactions for statically determinate and indeterminate beams is based on the concept of superposition. To help explain the theory and art of the superposition method, a series of 14 animated movies has been developed that present examples and strategies for applying superposition principles to common types of beams. To evaluate its effectiveness, experiments were conducted in which the customary lectures were replaced by use of this instructional software. Students who used the superposition software were compared to students in five other Mechanics of Materials sections on the basis of (a) score on a superposition problem included in the common final exam, (b) total score on the common final exam, and (c) a survey questionnaire consisting of a number of subjective rating items. Those students who used the superposition software were statistically comparable to the other students on all these outcome measures. In addition, there was evidence that low ability students benefited from the software in the form of increased motivation, in comparison to students in some of the other sections.


In the Mechanics of Materials course, the method for determining beam deflections and reactions using the principle of superposition is a difficult topic for students to master. While the notion of superposition is not a difficult concept, application of this idea to typical beam support and loading configurations can be much more like an art than most of the other topics taught in the Mechanics of Materials course. Generally equipped only with a table of a ten or more basic beam deflection cases, students must learn how to select and adapt these general cases to specific beam configurations. Even a seemingly simple beam span and load configuration, such as a single load applied to the tip of an overhanging span, may require the combination of several basic cases. Furthermore, there may be several ways to apply superposition to a particular situation. Altogether, it is difficult to state a clearly defined solution procedure that applies to all problems.

Exposure, practice, and study of a wide variety of beam deflection problems are often effective approaches to attaining proficiency in the superposition method. Within the constraints of a typical Mechanics of Materials course, however, there are limits to the number of examples that can be presented and discussed in class. While textbooks certainly contain valuable example problems as well, the print medium is limited to a static presentation that doesn’t engage the student as well as a lecture. Consequently, some students find that they do not get enough exposure to example problems, explained in the manner that they most desire, for them to attain confidence and competency in applying the superposition method.

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Hall, R., & Hubing, N., & Yellamraju, V., & Flori, R., & Philpot, T. (2004, June), Teaching The Superposition Method With Internet Based Instructional Software Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13047

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