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Utilizing Concept Maps to Improve Engineering Course Curriculum in Teaching Mechanics

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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 Methods in Mechanics

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Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1353.1 - 24.1353.10



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Paper Authors


Ruben Pierre-Antoine Stanford University

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Ruben is a senior undergraduate student at Stanford University studying Management Science & Engineering. He joined the Designing Education Lab in the winter of 2013. He has always had a passion for education and enjoys the integration of entrepreneurship into a curriculum.
Ruben loves to play sports, videogames, and eat at new restaurants. He also explores entrepreneurship in his free time.

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Sheri D. Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2003 Dr. Sheppard was named co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to form the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), along with faculty at the University of Washington, Colorado School of Mines, and Howard University. More recently (2011) she was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and is currently the Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Mark Schar Stanford University

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Dr. Schar works in the Center for Design Research - Designing Education Lab at Stanford University. He is also a member of the Symbiotic Project of Affective Neuroscience Lab at Stanford University and a Lecturer in the School of Engineering. Dr. Schar’s area of research is ”pivot thinking” which is the intersection of design thinking and the neuroscience of choice where he has several research projects underway. He has a 30 year career in industry as a Vice President with The Procter & Gamble Company and Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer with Intuit in Silicon Valley. Dr. Schar has a BSS from Northwestern University, an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering is from Stanford University.

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Utilizing Concept Maps to Improve Engineering Course Curriculum in Teaching MechanicsOne of the most difficult tasks of teaching in a college environment is evaluating how studentsassimilate the content. Tests and homework only show so much, as the performance on thoseevaluations may be a stronger indication of how much effort each student is putting into thecourse. In addition, large classes and the relative lack of communication with students make itdifficult to know exactly how students are learning course material. One approach is to havestudents create concept maps once they have finished the course (Turns, 2000). A concept mapis essentially a mental web of connected terms or topics, where the centermost term is theprimary learning focus and lines are used to connect related concepts. This results in a web ofinterconnected concepts that reflect the way students assimilate the new information.The three main questions guiding this study are: 1) How can we decode the variety of ideas andstructures that students include in their concept maps? 2) How can we use these discoveries tomake lectures and labs more effective? 3) What changes can be made to the way students aregiven the concept map development assignment to further increase the usefulness of conceptmaps?The dataset for this study focuses on concept maps developed by undergraduate students –primarily freshmen and sophomores – enrolled in an introductory solid mechanics course takenby many prospective engineering majors throughout the 2013 school year. In the final week ofthe course, students were tasked with creating a concept map of the various terms and topic areascovered during the ten-week course. In analyzing these maps, terms were weighted based ontheir location in reference to the centermost term of the map. Information regarding theproximity of the terms to each other and which terms are connected was also drawn from theconcept map dataset.This first round of analysis indicates that students, for the most part, were drawing the expectedconnections between the different terms and topics. However, there were instances wherestudents isolated topics, missed topics, or had them wrongly associated. This suggests that itmay be beneficial for the teaching team to more explicitly or repeatedly connect certain topicsthroughout the course in lectures, class exercises and homework assignments. Suggestions forimproving the concept map assignment are also discussed.ReferencesTurns, J. (2000). Concept Maps for Engineering Education: A Cognitively Motivated ToolSupporting Varied Assessment Functions. IEEE Transactions On Education, 164-173.Sample Concept Map

Pierre-Antoine, R., & Sheppard, S. D., & Schar, M. (2014, June), Utilizing Concept Maps to Improve Engineering Course Curriculum in Teaching Mechanics Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23286

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