An online Mechanics of Materials course offered last summer was designed to include several unique components intended to facilitate experiential learning in a manner more typically found in some traditional classroom-delivery courses. Course outcomes included expectations that, upon completion of the course, students would be able to “distinguish numerous real-life applications for mechanics of materials principles,” “differentiate between axial, torsional, and flexural/shear load cases and their applications,” and “theorize loading and deformations prior to performing calculations,” among others. In addition to video lecture and example materials, course innovations aimed at achieving these outcomes included: a small project involving students' evaluation of mechanics principles in their surroundings with a peer review, an analysis of a case of historical importance in which a failure related to mechanics of materials occurred, and the delivery of a physical activity kit to each student filled with demonstration materials relevant to the concepts of the course. The course was offered to a small group of students during the summer semester as an option for students who needed to fulfill a Mechanics of Materials prerequisite prior to the fall semester.
Student perceptions about the efficacy of the tools and projects at meeting the goal of increasing connections between course concepts and real world applications were collected through a brief survey of participating students. Based on the results of the survey, students appear to self-identify that both small projects and several of the materials available in the physical kit (such as a foam beam/column, a foam torsion member, and cube representing the 3D state of stress, all with strategic markings or modifications) contributed positively to their connections between the course concepts and real world applications. Several students opted not to use the materials in the physical kit, indicating a potential need for an adjusted approach in future iterations of the course, but nearly all students acknowledged that they saw a potential benefit of the hands-on experience it offered. Student feedback through free-response also included recommendations, such as increased interaction opportunities between course participants and the replacement of written instructions with video demonstrations showing how to make the best use of the items in the physical kit. This paper will include a summary of the course innovations used, the results of student feedback collected through surveys, and recommendations for the development of future experiential online engineering courses.
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