Stimulating Student Preparation in Introductory Engineering Mechanics

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Civil and Mechanical Engineering

Publication Date


Publication Title

Proceedings of the ASEE 2021 Annual Conference

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Engineering mechanics is the foundation for an engineering curriculum. It is crucial to comprehend and retain this knowledge to be successful in advanced courses such as structural analysis and machine component design, as well as to pass the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam. The study presented in this paper details the approach taken to replace in-class quizzes with regular out-of-class homework assignments in an introductory engineering mechanics course. The objectives of the study were to: 1) provide students with a variety of problems to apply both new and previous knowledge; 2) encourage engagement with the course material outside of in-person lessons; and 3) teach students to reflect and self-assess their own learning. Eighteen homework assignments were added throughout the thirty-lesson course. Each assignment consisted of two parts; practice problems from previous lessons and conceptual responses based on preparation for the next lesson. At the beginning of each class, students were given the opportunity to assess their own work and clarify any points of confusion. Instructors also provided focused, frequent, and timely digital feedback on these assessments. Instructors graded each assignment based on a holistic evaluation of the students’ comprehension in four domains: 1) approach to problem solving, 2) demonstration of engineering concepts, 3) application of fundamental math concepts, and 4) accuracy and presentation of the final answer. The effectiveness of the assignments was evaluated based on time students engaged with the material outside of class, historical performance on mid-term and final examinations, and student and instructor feedback. The results of the study showed frequent out-of-class assessments allowed students to spend a consistent amount of time with the course material per lesson and reduced the reported study time for midterm and final examinations. Students’ time spent preparing for each lesson increased by 22%, but time spent preparing for examinations decreased by 29%. Student feedback showed regular assessments were a useful tool when preparing for examinations and assisted in learning the material. However, the students’ performance on historical examinations showed negligible impact on comprehension of course topics. Further research is required to evaluate long-term retention.

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