Asee peer logo

The Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom: A New Approach to Engineering Mechanics Education

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

New Teaching Pedagogies: Methods and Assessments

Tagged Divisions

Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1241.1 - 24.1241.15



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Jeffrey F. Rhoads Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Jeffrey F. Rhoads is an Associate Professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University and is affiliated with both the Birck Nanotechnology Center and Ray W. Herrick Laboratories at the same institution. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees, each in mechanical engineering, from Michigan State University in 2002, 2004, and 2007, respectively. Dr. Rhoads’ current research interests include the predictive design, analysis, and implementation of resonant micro/nanoelectromechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS); the behavior of electromechanical and thermomechanical systems operating in rich, multi-physics environments; and mechanics education. Dr. Rhoads is a member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), where he serves on the Student Design Committee and the Design Engineering Division’s Technical Committees on Micro/Nanosystems and Vibration and Sound. Dr. Rhoads is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, the Purdue University School of Mechanical Engineering’s Harry L. Solberg Best Teacher Award (twice), and the ASEE Mechanics Division’s Ferdinand P. Beer and E. Russell Johnston, Jr. Outstanding New Mechanics Educator Award.

visit author page


Eric Nauman Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Dr. Nauman is a professor of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, and basic medical sciences at Purdue University and has served as an EPICS instructor for five years. As an educator, he has quantified the positive effects of active learning, the ability of case studies to improve collateral learning, and is currently developing a continuous quality improvement model for teaching mechanics courses that is anticipated to ease faculty adoption of novel teaching techniques. Dr. Nauman participated in the NETI workshop and has continued developing novel examples and applications of basic mechanics that engage students and encourage them to incorporate concepts from a variety of fields. He demonstrated that global case studies can be used to improve students’ awareness and appreciation of other cultures and points of view. This work led to his participation in Purdue’s ENGAGE team where he has helped develop a course in visualization, and educational materials that integrate everyday examples, and active learning into basic mechanics courses.

visit author page


Beth M. Holloway Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Beth Holloway is the Director of the Women in Engineering Program at Purdue University, where she initiates, manages, evaluates, and promotes comprehensive activities and programs that recruit and retain women in engineering from Kindergarten through faculty ranks. She is also the Director of Student Success for the College of Engineering at Purdue University. Holloway received both B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education, all from Purdue University. Her research areas include women and leadership, particularly in male dominated careers; differential retention issues for women across engineering disciplines; and engineering admissions practices.

She is currently the Program Chair of the Women in Engineering Division for ASEE. She served on the ASEE Diversity Committee from 2010 – 2012. Holloway was also president of WEPAN (Women in Engineering ProActive Network, in 2006-07, served on WEPAN’s Board of Directors from 2005 – 2008, and was the co-chair of the 2003 WEPAN National Conference.

visit author page

author page

Charles Morton Krousgrill Purdue University, West Lafayette

Download Paper |


Motivated by the need to address the broad spectrum of learning styles embraced by today’s engineering students, a desire to encourage active, peer-to-peer, and self-learning, and a goal of interacting with every student despite ever-expanding enrollments, the mechanics faculty at Purdue University have developed the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom (PMFC) -- a new approach to engineering mechanics education. This complete, yet evolving, course system seeks to combine the more successful elements of the traditional classroom, with new hybrid textbooks, extensive multimedia content, and web 2.0 interactive technologies to create linked physical and virtual learning environments that not only appeal to students, but markedly improve the students’ technical competency in foundational engineering technical areas. Though some elements of the PMFC have been in development for more than five years, the current amalgamation of educational tools has been implemented for only six semesters. This incarnation consists of four core elements: (i) Hybrid Textbooks/Lecture Notes – A key component of the PMFC experience is the hybrid textbook/lecture notes sets, dubbed “lecturebooks”. These hybrid texts are designed to concisely present the students with pertinent background information, highlight fundamental engineering principles and optimal problem solving techniques, and provide an extensive array of practical and relevant examples. The hybrid nature of the document stems from the notion that most factual information is provided in full, while brief and extended examples are provided with ample white space, allowing the student to actively work the problem, with the instructor’s assistance, within a lecture environment. (ii) Course Blog – The connective tissue of the PMFC experience is a highly-interactive course blog, which serves as a repository for course information and multimedia and, more importantly, a venue for peer-to-peer and student-to-instructor virtual interaction. (iii) Multimedia Content – Though blog-enabled peer-to-peer and student-to-instructor interactions lead to significant out-of-classroom learning, these features are buttressed in the PMFC by a wide array of multimedia content, designed specifically for self-paced factual delivery, and ultimately self-learning. The cornerstone of this multimedia content is the more than 400 instructor-produced videos, which highlight, in a step-by-step fashion, the problem solving approaches required for all of the course’s homework problems and lecture examples, and numerous internally-produced technical videos that relate various course topics to real-world events and engineering systems. (iv) Lecture – The most traditional component of the PMFC experience is the classroom lecture. Though lecture format and style can vary dramatically from instructor to instructor, the PMFC model encourages a strong emphasis on engineering fundamentals, highly-interactive and open-ended technical discussions, classroom demonstrations, and the inclusion of extended examples or case studies that parallel world events and/or technical situations that arise in students’ lives. Given this framework, the present work specifically seeks to describe the development and evolution of the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom and its constituent components. Complementing this will be a discussion of preliminary assessment, both formal and anecdotal in nature. The results of this assessment not only highlight the group-level efficacy of the approach (as captured through student failure and withdrawal metrics, amongst pertinent others), but also highlight improvements in student satisfaction and course perception. Finally, in light of their importance in the presence of sustainable curricular change, issues associated with faculty buy-in and material adoption will also be discussed.

Rhoads, J. F., & Nauman, E., & Holloway, B. M., & Krousgrill, C. M. (2014, June), The Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom: A New Approach to Engineering Mechanics Education Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23174

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015