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The Transition From Textbook Problems To Realistic Problems

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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

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1297.1 - 9.1297.7



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Paper Authors

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Lumsdaine Arnold

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Jack Waserman

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J. A. M. Boulet

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


The Transition from Textbook Problems to Realistic Problems

J. A. M. Boulet, A. Lumsdaine, J. F. Wasserman University of Tennessee


The vision of this project is to help students make the transition from textbook problems to realistic engineering problems in which modeling precedes analysis and analysis requires inte- gration of concepts from various courses. To fulfill this vision, a self-paced, internet-based suite of learning tools is being developed. They are structured to provide “just-in-time” information and to allow a user’s errors to shape the learning path. Simulated experiments, video clips, and multiply branched paths give students the opportunity to learn by discovery.

Prior to using the developed tools, students take a “learning style” test. Then two groups of students are given a “pre-test” and a “post-test” on the material covered in one of the instruc- tional tools. In the period between the two tests, one group is given access to the learning tool, but the other (control) group is not. Analysis of the resulting data is intended to reveal how the tool aids individuals with different learning styles, and how the tool aids all users relative to the control group. Introduction

As instructors in undergraduate courses in various areas of engineering mechanics, we find that students commonly have difficulty in applying principles studied in the classroom when tak- ing subsequent courses that build on these principles. The movement from tutoring to large classes has greatly reduced the level of learning.1 Bloom demonstrated a move from 50% com- prehension in large classes to 90% comprehension if pathways to mastery were developed.1 Mastery of the fundamentals is important not only in the study of increasingly advanced topics, but also in solving realistic engineering problems.

The phrase “realistic engineering problem” is used here in a restricted sense. By it we denote problems that require some modeling prior to analysis, that require the integration of concepts typically encountered separately in the undergraduate engineering curriculum, and that have unique answers. Because of this last restriction, we do not include open-ended problems

Students’ difficulties in moving from textbook problems to realistic engineering problems is not surprising, since textbook problems are necessarily much simpler than realistic engineering problems. (One must first grasp basic concepts and principles, and then apply them to simplified

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Arnold, L., & Waserman, J., & Boulet, J. A. M. (2004, June), The Transition From Textbook Problems To Realistic Problems Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13396

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