Strategy, Task Performance, and Behavioral Themes from Students Solving 2-D and 3-D Force Equilibrium Problems

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

122nd Annual Conference Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education


Seattle, WA

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Sophomore engineering students display cognitive strategies while solving Statics problems that yield insight into our understanding of their native levels of knowledge. Within this stage of their academic careers, initial engineering courses are being taken, laying the foundations for future engineering success. Engineering Statics – the first class in the engineering mechanics series as well as one of the first engineering courses offered to many engineering students – presents a prime environment to understand fundamental issues regarding students strategies and misconceptions in a problem solving process. Gaining an understanding of these students’ approaches to Statics problems, and the possible accompanying misconceptions, is motivated by their direct correlation and impacts on future engineering coursework and success.

This study aims to discover cognitive strategies and misconceptions exhibited by engineering students as they are introduced to 2-D and 3-D force equilibrium concepts. Qualitative initial, axial, and selective coding methods, following a constant comparative analysis technique imbedded in grounded theory, were used to analyze the responses of students as they solve 2-D and 3-D force equilibrium problems recorded through a transcribed Think-Aloud protocol. An expanded pilot study – where the initial group of students solved traditional equilibrium problems and a follow-on group of students solved segmented equilibrium problems – is discussed in this paper. The study aimed to identify mental models for problem solving that can be used to frame interventions, as well as areas of need where such interventions would help students solving Statics problems. Procedural and conceptual aspects of students’ strategies and misconceptions are discussed individually and interactively. Results will foster future research, refine the qualitative methods applied, and direct pedagogical descriptions of the Statics problem-solving process.

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