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The Effect Technology And A Structured Design Problem Has On Student Attitudes About Theory In A Dynamics Class

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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

Innovative Teaching Techniques in Mechanics

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Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1280.1 - 11.1280.13

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Paper Authors


Louis Everett University of Texas-El Paso

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Louis J. Everett is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas El Paso. Dr. Everett is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Texas and has research interests in the use of technology in the classroom. His technical research interests include robotics, machine design, dynamics and control systems.

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Arunkumar Pennathur

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Arunkumar Pennathur is Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Texas El Paso. Dr. Pennathur edits the International Journal of Industrial Engineering. His educational research interests are in physiological assessments of student learning, and design of learning interfaces. His technical research interests are in engineering for older adults, human workload assessment, ecological human-machine interface design and sociotechnical systems design and evaluation.

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Elsa Villa University of Texas-El Paso

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Elsa Villa is a lecturer in the Department of Teacher Education, Division of Mathematics, Science and Technology, at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). She formerly served as the Director of the Engineering Programs Office at UTEP for eleven years where she worked closely with engineering faculty in designing and implementing instructional strategies to improve classroom learning. Ms. Villa holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from The University of Texas at El Paso. She will complete her Master of Arts in Education in May 2006.

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

The Effect Technology and Structured Design Problems Have on Student Attitudes about Theory in a Dynamics Class1 Abstract

For many universities, engineering students enroll in Dynamics during the sophomore year and may take the course as a two semester Mechanics sequence: the first semester course has an emphasis on Statics; and the second an emphasis on bodies in motion. Since students in Dynamics typically concurrently enroll in a non-linear differential equations mathematics course, calculations in the Dynamics course are performed for a point in time. Student feedback indicates that some of them struggle with the notion that they are computing time functions at a single point in time. It seems they lose sight of the fact that the mechanism is in motion. Other feedback comments suggest the students also struggle with a lack of motivation for what they are doing. Many students indicate that they do not “connect” the theory presented in lectures to any practical application. To address these issues, a two-component experiment was designed to investigate the effect technology and a simple design problem might have on student attitudes about theory presented in class. In the first part of the experiment, students were presented with relatively simple dynamics problems that “appear” to have simple behaviors. Problems were presented to the students, and they were asked to make predictions about the associated behavior. After making their predictions, the students were shown the true behavior which is usually different than their prediction. Then they were asked to explain the observation using simple theory that was presented in class. Whenever possible, the instructor used computer simulation to “test” the student theories. Finally, students identified “real world” applications for each phenomenon under study then make similar predictions on similar applications. In the second part of the experiment, students were asked to perform a simple design. After investigating a device used in factory automation, the students were asked to “design” a force to apply that would make the system run more optimally. The design was structured because the students know they are looking for a force, but it is open-ended because an entire class of forces will satisfy the constraints. Several students approached the design by “guessing” and used the technology to “test.” Others realized this behavior would not produce results and began to apply theory covered in class. This paper presents some of the modules or challenge problems that were used in the course. The authors did not create these problems: they were copied from a number of sources and developed to the point that they have classroom materials associated with them. The paper also presents the design problem and gives a web link to download the modules and the design. The software simulations used in class are described and discussed; and assessment of student attitudes before and after these “interventions” is presented.

1 This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DUE-0411320. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Support was also from the PACE program ( and the authors gratefully acknowledge their support.

Everett, L., & Pennathur, A., & Villa, E. (2006, June), The Effect Technology And A Structured Design Problem Has On Student Attitudes About Theory In A Dynamics Class Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois.

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