Restructuring Students' Naïve Theories of Stress and Strain Using Haptic Feedback Coupled Simulations

Leslie A Grundman, Purdue University


Mechanics of Materials is an important class in mechanical, biomedical, and civil engineering disciplines as it contains concepts needed for subsequent classes and future job assignments. Mechanics of Materials is also a difficult class as students have not been exposed to the material previously, the material is cognitively challenging, and the three-dimensional nature of the material requires that students have well-developed spatial visualization skills. Although researchers have made many attempts to improve Mechanics of Materials student learning outcomes using such methods as design projects, group discussions, simulations, and hands-on activities, there is still opportunity to improve instruction. One approach to improving student learning outcomes, combining haptic feedback with computer simulation, has received little attention. The purpose of this dissertation study was to develop a cognitive device to improve students’ conceptual knowledge of beam stress and deflection, to determine how computer simulation visualization support affects students with low spatial visualization skills, and to determine the effects of haptic feedback on students’ understanding of beam stress and deflection. The cognitive device in this study was designed to operate in two modes: simulation-only mode or simulation combined with haptic feedback mode. The simulation-only mode used a standard computer keyboard and mouse for input, while the haptic feedback mode used an instrumented foam beam for input. A mixed methods approach was used; quantitative methods were used to evaluate changes in students’ ability to answer concept questions, while qualitative methods were used to evaluate students’ actions, thought processes, and comments from operating the device in both modes. The quantitative data was gathered over the course of several weeks by administering a pre-test to all students, working with students one-on-one using one version of the cognitive device, administering a mid-test, working with students one-on-one using the other version of the cognitive device, and then administering a post-test. The test design was counter-balanced by researching two lab sections; students in Lab Section AA used the simulation-only mode first and later used the simulation combined with haptic feedback mode. Students in Lab Section AB used the simulation with haptic feedback mode first and then later used the simulation-only mode. Video was recorded during the training interventions and the students completed surveys after each training intervention. A two-way mixed ANOVA of the pre-test, mid-test and post-test scores revealed that there was a statistically significant improvement between pre-test and mid-test scores for both cognitive device input modes. The mixed ANOVA also showed that the mid-test to post-test score increases were not statistically significant and that interaction effects were not statistically significant. Although these results implied that the haptic feedback version of the cognitive device offered no advantages over the simulation-only version, qualitative analysis of the video revealed several design aspects that could be improved to reduce the extraneous cognitive load associated with the use of the instrumented foam beam. Qualitative analysis of the video and student comments also revealed unexpected student usage modes and a wide range of student abilities and interests.




Brophy, Purdue University.

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