Using Physical Systems to Enhance Learning of Dynamics Concepts

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant Program

Grant recipient: Carolyn Sparrey, Mechatronic Systems Engineering

Project team: Ken Van Wieren and James Shoults, Research Machinist Shop, Faculty of Science

Timeframe: March 2019 to June 2020

Funding: $6000

Course addressed: MSE 222 – Introduction to Kinematics and Dynamics

Description: Mechatronics (and engineering) students learning dynamics often struggle to visualize how different mechanical systems move. This leads to frustration, inability to understand problems, and poor performance in the class. Mechanical systems are shown in the textbook and example problems as 2D images. In this study we want to explore the effectiveness of 3D physical representations that match example problems, allowing students to physically manipulate the mechanisms, in improving their understanding, confidence and comfort in addressing these problems. There are numerous studies highlighting the importance of strong spatial-visualization skills for engineering disciplines but fewer discuss strategies to support those who may not be as strong in their spatial understanding.

Questions addressed:

  • Do students better understand kinematics and dynamics problems after being able to see and handle 3D representations of the problem?
  • Is there an interaction between the impact of the 3D representation on student performance and their field of interest and/or their spatial visualization skills?
  • Do students feel more comfortable or confident with the course material after having access to the 3D representations?
  • How do students interact with the 3D representations?  Which students interact with them?
  • Can the models withstand student use?

Knowledge sharing: Results of the study will be presented at the annual Teaching and Learning Symposiums at SFU. Results will also be shared with colleagues in Mechatronics through conversations with other faculty members who teach mechanical focused topics.

The tools developed in this project could be used by other colleagues in Mechatronics as they teach similar courses and the approach could more be used more broadly to assist students who may not be as proficient with spatial understanding. The results of the student demographics questionnaire and the spatial visualization test may also highlight differences within the Mechatronic Student Cohorts that could assist in planning and providing support for students with different strengths and interests. Finally, the results of this work will be shared through an academic journal paper (likely IEEE) to ensure the results are broadly distributed to the engineering teaching community.