Enhancing Engineering Education-Mechanical Engineering - Carnegie Mellon University

Enhancing Engineering Education

New technologies including the web, digital video, sound, animations, and interactivity have provided tools to make engineering education more effective. Using these technologies, as well as insights from cognitive psychology, faculty are able to design and present new instruction materials and to assess relevant students’ cognitive abilities in novel ways.

Several faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering are active in educational research, partnering with research collaborators at other institutions, as well as organizations including the National Science Foundation, the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Ansys and Parametric Technologies, to develop exportable tools that can be utilized by other colleges and universities to enhance their engineering curriculum. Below you will find descriptions of the educational tools our faculty have developed as well as information about how to import these tools for use at other institutions.

Computer-Aided Engineering Tutorials

Over  the  past  six  years,  Carnegie  Mellon  University  has  integrated  computer-aided  engineering experiences  into  its  undergraduate  mechanical  engineering  curriculum.    Several  proof-of-concept  web-based  course  modules  have  been  developed  for  students  to  use  software  packages  for  design  and simulation.    In  this project,  investigators  propose  to  develop  a  web-based  Background  Curriculum, allowing computer-aided simulation, design, modeling and prototyping skills to be transparently overlaid onto and distributed through the traditional engineering curriculum.

This  project  comes  at  a  critical  time  for  the  mechanical  engineering  profession.  Departments throughout the country are working hard to transform their programs to address a new reality of industrial practice, where successful engineers must fully integrate computer modeling, design, physical intuition, and analytical  skills.  The  self-discovery  capabilities  of  information  technology  can  be  the  key  to reaching this goal and to offering new opportunities for student growth and education.

A current version of the tutorials may be obtained by instructors by emailing Jack Beuth or Jonathan Wickert.

Freshman Course CAE Introduction:
Wrench Project:  Computer-Aided Design, Analysis and Manufacturing

Slider-Crank Motion Simulation with Adams

Tutorials for Higher-Level Courses:

Statics:  Mechanism Visualization with Solidworks

Stress Analysis:  Finite Elements Simulations with ANSYS

Dynamics:  Motion Simulation with Adams

Numerical Analysis: MathCAD

Dynamic Systems and Controls and Feedback Control: Controls Using Matlab

Viscous Flow and Thermal-Fluids Engineering:  Simulations with ANSYS

Senior Design and Integrated Product Development: Intro to Solidworks

General Tutorials Not Linked to a Specific Course:

ZCorp Rapid Prototyping Machine Tutorial

Concept Inventory for Statics

This project seeks to develop a test (Statics Concept Inventory) to measure a student’s ability to use core Statics concepts. Each question of the test requires the use of a single concept in isolation and requires negligible mathematical analysis. The Statics Concept Inventory builds upon the project addressing Conceptional Basis for Statics. This test is intended to help identify those concepts which a student understands well. In addition, since incorrect answers encapsulate typical errors made by students, wrong answers can be inspected for patterns which reveal consistent misconceptions.

A current version of the concept inventory may be obtained by instructors by emailing Paul Steif.


P.S. Steif, “Comparison Between Performance On A Concept Inventory And Solving Of Multifaceted Problems", 33rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Boulder, Co., November 5-8, 2003.

P.S. Steif, “Initial Data from a Statics Concept Inventory”, submitted to the Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.

Elementary FEA to Improve Visualization of Deformation
Collaborator: Edward Gallagher

Students need to be prepared for the engineering workplace, in which the use of computer aided engineering tools is ubiquitous. Furthermore, CAE tools could be an excellent teaching tool. For example, by showing the deformed shape of a body, a finite element program can enable students to improve their ability to visualize deformation. Unfortunately, the use of commercial CAE packages is infeasible in many departments, and challenging for students to learn. Therefore, we have been developing a very simple finite element program which can be run over the Web, which is to be used by students at the beginning of mechanics of materials class. This program is made accessible to students by giving it minimal capabilities: planar rectangular domains, only two types of elements, uniform meshing, isotropic linear elasticity, and only force or displacement boundary conditions. To ease the transition to commercial FEA software, this simple program involves the same conceptual steps as commercial versions: specifying the domain, material, element type, mesh, and boundary conditions, solving and viewing results. The program is useful as both for demonstrating ideas in lecture for students to use independently in solving homework problems.

A current version of this software, which is still in the process of being developed, can be found on: http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/user/esmall/FEA/.


P. S. Steif and E. Gallagher, “Use of Simplified FEA to Enhance Visualization in Mechanics,” submitted for publication.

Problem Solving Courseware for Mechanics of Materials

In this project, we have developed software to offer students in Mechanics of Materials an alternative, and in some respects more effective, problem solving experience. Resulting from this investigation has been a set of six modules. Each module focuses one key topic, such as shear force and bending moment diagrams. Within each module there is a limited set of physical configurations, for example beams that are simply supported or cantilevered, with a limited set of load types. But, different problems approach the configuration in a distinct ways. For example, some problems lead the student through the drawing of the diagrams, some problems let the student draw the diagrams independently, and some problems give the diagrams and have the students deduce the loads. In some modules, such as one on axial loading, the distinct concepts associated with each class of problem unfold in a gradual and natural way, with successive problems building on the previous ones.

Students get immediate feedback on whether they solve each problem correctly, and they are offered randomly generated versions of similar problems until they can be solved correctly. This approach allows students to develop a better grasp of fundamental principles, an intuitive sense of the meaning of key quantities, and fluency in using relations to solve problems. Students use modules independently and submit electronic log files to instructors who can monitor their progress.

An evaluation report of the software, based on extensive field-testing of the modules, can be found at http://www.me.cmu.edu/stressalyzer/, where there are additional details on the modules and links to the publisher distributing this software.


P. S. Steif, “Computer-Based Learning Aids for Problem Solving in Mechanics of Materials,” Proceedings of the 2000 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, American Society for Engineering, St. Louis, MO, June, 2000.

P.S. Steif, “Courseware for Problem Solving in Mechanics of Materials,” Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, American Society for Engineering, June 23-26, 2002.

P. S. Steif and L.M. Naples, “Design and Evaluation of Problem Solving Courseware Modules For Mechanics of Materials,” Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 92, pp. 239-247, (2003).

Reorganization of Statics Instruction
Collaborator: Anna Dollar

This project seeks to re-invent Statics instruction based on two premises:

  • Individuals who are new to Statics and Physics have difficulty understanding that forces exist between rigid, unmoving inanimate objects
  • Concepts of Statics should be treated gradually, in sequence, with mathematical manipulations initially kept to a minimum.

We have reformulated instruction in Statics to address concepts one at a time and, initially, only in the context of forces that are readily perceived by the senses of touch and sight. Emerging from this reformulation is a series of in-class Learning Modules, featuring: objects to manipulate or examine, PowerPoint Presentations, and Concept Questions. The instructor controls the PowerPoint Presentations, which step students through a series of ideas and questions related to the objects. The Concept Questions are multiple-choice questions that assess student understanding of concepts, and which require little or no analysis.

This project is still in development; further details can be obtained by emailing Paul Steif.


P.S. Steif and A. Dollár, “Enriching Statics Instruction with Physical Objects,” Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, American Society for Engineering, Montreal, Canada, June 23-26, 2002.

A. Dollár and P.S. Steif, “Understanding Internal Loading Through Hands-On Experiences,” Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Montreal, Canada, American Society for Engineering, June 23-26, 2002.

P.S. Steif and A. Dollár, “A New Approach To Teaching And Learning Statics”, Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Nashville, TN, June 22-25, 2003.

A. Dollár and P.S. Steif, “Learning Modules For The Statics Classroom”, Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Nashville, TN, June 22-25, 2003.

P.S. Steif and A. Dollár, “Collaborative, goal-oriented, Manipulation of Artifacts by Students during Statics Lecture”, 33rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Boulder, Co., November 5-8, 2003.

A. Dollár and P.S. Steif, “Reinventing the Teaching of Statics”, submitted for publication.

P.S. Steif and A. Dollár, “Integrating Effective General Classroom Techniques With Domain-Specific Conceptual Needs”, submitted for publication.