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The Purposeful Use of Activities to Affect Learning

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Innovations in Teaching: Mechanics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1493.1 - 22.1493.20



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Paper Authors


Renee K. Petersen Washington State University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Renee Petersen has a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics from Montana State University and a M.S. degree in Engineering Mechanics from Iowa State University. She has taught courses in Engineering Mechanics at Iowa State University, University of Idaho, and Washington State University. In addition, for ten years she taught high school mathematics during which time her students consistently won inter-school mathematics competitions, including Math is Cool competitions. She currently serves as an instructor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Washington State University, where she teaches Statics, Mechanics of Materials and Engineering Administration. She was selected by the students of her department as the Outstanding Teacher for 2009. She is also the mother of two sons and two daughters. All four are college students, one pursuing a Ph.D. in mathematics, one a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering, one an M.S. in Civil Engineering, and one an undergraduate in Civil Engineering.

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Denny C. Davis Washington State University

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Dr. Davis is Professor of Bioengineering and Director of the Engineering Education Research Center at Washington State University.

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Purposeful Sequenced Use of In-class Activities to Affect LearningDemonstrations are often used by educators to engage students and increase their retention ofmaterial and ability to synthesize and apply concepts to new situations. However, theeffectiveness of such demonstrations is hindered by students’ tendency to compartmentalizeconcepts. We hypothesize that students who participate in activities purposefully sequenced toreinforce and build upon such demonstrations will demonstrate better retention of material andan increased ability to apply the concepts to new situations. We test this hypothesis in aMechanics of Materials course, for which basic concepts include stress, strain and stresstransformations. Having devised a set of activities building on demonstrations such as the use ofa surgical glove material for axial load and a Styrofoam tube for torsion, we test the impact ofthese activities on the students’ abilities to define, describe, and apply the interrelationship of theconcepts of stress, strain, and stress transformations.To test our hypothesis, we work with two different sections (Sections A and B) of Mechanics ofMaterials, both of which are taught by the same instructor and cover the same material at thesame pace. Early in the semester the students in each section are asked to define stress, normalstrain, and shear strain. In addition, students in both sections participate in the demonstrationsand record their observations. Subsequently only the students in Section A participate inadditional follow-up activities designed to reinforce their observations and develop a deeperunderstanding of the relationship between stress and strain, stress distributions and stresstransformations. Students in Section B serve as a control group, not participating in the follow-upactivities.Performance differences between the two pedagogical methods are assessed using mixedmethods. At the end of the semester, the students in both sections are assessed using a commonset of problems to determine their level of understanding of stress, strain, and stresstransformations. The students’ understanding of these concepts is further assessed through a setof questions asking them to explain the relationships of interest. Assessment results show 1) theextent to which students who participate in the additional, concept reinforcing, activities arebetter able to define stress and strain than are the students in the control group, and 2) extent towhich they are better able to synthesize and apply their understanding to the new set of problemsthan are the students in the control group. Students are also interviewed to determine whataspects of the initial activities and the follow-up activities affected specific understandings of thecourse concepts. Recommendations are presented to guide future development of activityutilization strategies for teaching Mechanics of Materials.

Petersen, R. K., & Davis, D. C. (2011, June), The Purposeful Use of Activities to Affect Learning Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18875

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