In online or large in-person course sections, instructors often adopt an online homework tool to alleviate the burden of grading. While these systems can quickly tell students whether they got a problem correct for a multiple-choice or numeric answer, they are unable to provide feedback on students’ free body diagrams. As the process of sketching a free body diagram correctly is a foundational skill to solving engineering problems, the loss of feedback to the students in this area is a detriment to students.
To address the need for rapid feedback on students’ free body diagram sketching, the research team developed an online, sketch-recognition system called Mechanix. This system allows students to sketch free body diagrams, including for trusses, and receive instant feedback on their sketches. The sketching feedback is ungraded. After the students have a correct sketch, they are then able to enter in the numeric answers for the problem and submit those for a grade. Thereby, the platform offers the grading convenience of other online homework systems but also helps the students develop their free body diagram sketching skills.
To assess the efficacy of this experimental system, standard concept inventories were
administered pre- and post-semester for both experimental and control groups. The unfamiliarity or difficulty of some advanced problems in the Statics Concept Inventory, however, appeared to discourage students, and many would stop putting in any effort after a few problems that were especially challenging to solve. This effect was especially pronounced with the Construction majors versus the Mechanical Engineering majors in the test group. To address this tendency and therefore collect more complete pre- and post-semester concept inventory data, the research group worked on reordering the Statics Concept Inventory questions from more familiar to more challenging, based upon the past performance of the initial students taking the survey. This paper describes the process and results of the effort to reorder this instrument in order to increase Construction student participation and, therefore, the researchers’ ability to measure the impact of the Mechanix system.