Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Science and engineering students do not typically receive explicit training in scientific problem solving, i.e. applying science principles to specific situations. Students’ problem solving skills often show little improvement throughout their course of studies. This paper describes a structured, graphical, interactive (GUI) learning environment, which presents problems and tools for analysis in systematic and logical order, and encourages the student to develop the solution path in the manner of an experienced expert. The learning environment’s subject area is Engineering Dynamics, which was selected for its systematic structure and its early (usually sophomore) place in the undergraduate curriculum. The software presents the concepts required to solve homework problems, organized along book chapters. First, the student is prompted to analyze the problem statement, i.e. to extract relevant information from the text and classify the problem. Free-body diagrams are developed interactively on-screen. The problem solution is then developed conceptually by applying the problem information to the current (and preceding) chapter’s laws as appropriate. The conceptual solution is complete if the number of variables in the problem matches the number of equations in the conceptual solution set. Lastly, the quantitative solution is developed in Mathcad, using the applicable laws from the conceptual solution and the data given. The problem solving software thus creates and reinforces a pattern for problem solving which is typically absent among novice students: they tend to start the solution process with the numbers at hand, and then try to find an equation that yields the desired result. Over time, the software thus is expected to train students in systematic problem solving. Context-sensitive help throughout explains laws, procedures, and their possible connections to the problem at hand.


Higher Education | Mechanical Engineering


©2002 American Society for Engineering Education, Washington, D.C.

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