Dynamics is historically challenging for students to understand and to transfer class concepts to new contexts. These challenges may partly derive from traditional large lecture style teaching methods that emphasize lecturing, note taking, and textbook problem solving. In this study, we are introducing a new way to present dynamics concepts through engaging experiments that employ inertial measurement units (IMUs). With the recent proliferation of IMUs, it is now financially feasible to incorporate conceptually rich experiments in large lecture courses thereby skirting the need for dedicated (brick and mortar) laboratory facility.
The purpose of this study is to increase student conceptual understanding in dynamics by developing an intervention to the traditional teaching approach through a systematic scaling up of IMU experiments as part of a large lecture class. The first level of this intervention, detailed here, consists of instructor-created, instructor-led experiments that are demonstrated in class. The experiments focus on several commonly misunderstood concepts identified by the authors of the Dynamics Concept Inventory (DCI), a validated instrument that probes conceptual understanding of engineering dynamics. The kinematic data provided by the IMUs (acceleration and angular rate) expose these commonly misunderstood concepts in the assignments following the experiments. The intervention was implemented in a semester of an introductory dynamics course and compared to an offering in a prior semester. We measure the impact of the intervention on student conceptual understanding via potential gains on the DCI.
The first experiment consists of an IMU rigidly attached to a slider free to slide along a rotating arm, thus providing the necessary conditions to study Coriolis acceleration. The second experiment consists of a wheelchair with IMUs attached at three locations: outer perimeter of a wheel, hub of the same wheel, and back of the chair. Comparing measurements from the sensors on the wheel reveals basic rigid body kinematic concepts, whereas comparing measurements from the wheel to those from the chair exposes rolling without slipping and Newton’s second law.
We have control data from 131 students across 3 sections in 1 semester of no IMU-based experiments, and we are completing the first level of the intervention (354 students across 7 sections in 2 semesters). However, the results from one semester of this intervention (instructor-created, instructor-led experiments) suggest in-class experiments improve student conceptual understanding in only a limited way. This first intervention level maintains the same traditional type of learning environment with an instructor describing the concepts exposed by the experiments. However, students will be more participatory in the next two subsequent levels of intervention: 1) instructor-created, student-led experiments and 2) student-created, student-led experiments. We expect to see more learning gains as students have greater opportunity to engage with the experiments and reflect on how their measurements expose course concepts. This paper will include more detailed descriptions of the experiments and the corresponding assignments as well as a comparison between the instructor-created, instructor-led intervention group and the control group.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.