Using Writing Assignments to Promote Conceptual Knowledge Development in Engineering Statics
Venters IV, Christopher Harry
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Learning of threshold concepts in engineering science courses such as statics has traditionally been a difficult and critical juncture for engineering students. Research and other systematic efforts to improve the teaching of statics in recent years range widely, from development of courseware and assessment tools to experiential and other "hands-on" learning techniques. This dissertation reports the findings from a multi-year, dual-institution study investigating possible links between short writing assignments and conceptual knowledge development in statics courses. The theoretical framework of the study draws on elements from cognitive learning theory: expertise, procedural and conceptual knowledge development, and conceptual change. The way that students approach learning in statics with regard to procedural and conceptual knowledge is explored qualitatively, and the relationship between the writing assignments and conceptual knowledge development is examined using a mixed-methods approach. The results show that students approach learning in statics with varying emphasis placed on procedural and conceptual knowledge development and that a student's learning approach influences their perception of the written problems and the ways that they utilize them in learning. Thus, they provide evidence that the learning approach of students may be an important factor in the success of interventions designed to improve conceptual knowledge in statics. Increases in conceptual knowledge as a result of completing the written problems are also empirically supported though limited by problems with data collection. Areas for future work in light of these findings are identified.
- Doctoral Dissertations