Newtonian mechanics, particularly dynamics, can be inherently difficult to teach in a large lecture setting. The study of motion is not always easily represented through traditional teaching methods that include lectures on theory augmented with homework problems. Motion, however, can be readily measured and analyzed using a new inexpensive technology known as inertial measurement units (IMUs), and IMU-based experiments can be incorporated into large classes to expose concepts about motion. We hypothesize using such experiments will: 1) increase student understanding of dynamics concepts, 2) build student self-efficacy, and 3) grow student intention to persist in the field.
The study, which is funded by NSF’s DUE:EHR program, is conducted in the context of an undergraduate introductory dynamics course at a large public university required by several different engineering disciplines. We are systematically incorporating the IMU-based experiments into the class at three levels: 1) instructor-created, instructor-led experiments, 2) instructor-created, student-led experiments, and 3) student-created, student-led experiments. The impact of the experiments on student conceptual understanding is measured by the Dynamics Concept Inventory, a well-researched, validated instrument that probes student understanding of engineering dynamics. Furthermore, the impact on self-efficacy and persistence is measured with a modified version of the Longitudinal Assessment of Engineering Self-Efficacy (LAESE), which is a validated survey instrument that measures four subfactors: 1) engineering self-efficacy, 2) course-specific self-efficacy, 3) intention to persist in the field, and 4) feelings of inclusion. Both instruments are administered at the beginning and end of the term.
To date, we have collected control data from 131 students across 3 sections in 1 semester with no IMU-based experiments, and we are completing the first level of our study (354 students across 7 sections in 2 semesters). This first level is comprised of instructors demonstrating two experiments relating to commonly misunderstood DCI concepts and students completing assignments exploring those concepts using data provided by IMUs. The DCI results show that two demonstrations alone have limited impact on student conceptual understanding. Furthermore, the LAESE results are inconclusive regarding how these experiments affect student self-efficacy and intention to persist. We hypothesize the effects will become apparent as students become more involved in the experiments with the aforementioned subsequent levels (i.e., as the experiments become progressively more hands-on and engaging). This update will compare the results of this first level of the study against the control data.
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