A Case Study on Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conceptual Understanding

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Virginia Tech


Atmospheric Flight Mechanics (AFM) is one of the cornerstones of aeronautical engineering and includes subjects like aerodynamic prediction, stability and control, dynamics, and vehicle design. These topics are critical to the success of aircraft development, so AFM is considered one of the most important foundational knowledge areas for aerospace engineering. Unfortunately, students graduating from aerospace engineering programs are often underprepared to perform in AFM jobs. This ongoing research focuses on developing a blueprint for assessing conceptual understanding of AFM concepts. Since existing literature suggests that novices and experts organize knowledge differently, comparing students' and experts' mental models can shine a light on the alternative conceptions that students retain post-instruction. As such, framing the study around synthetic mental models can be advantageous. To explore these mental models, three types of data have been collected and analyzed. Document analysis was done on course documents to identify what concept relationships were being presented to the students. Class observations were conducted to analyze how concepts are introduced to students and what relationships are highlighted by the instructor. Finally, a concept mapping activity was facilitated to study the mental models that the students built after instruction. The results show a lack of synthetization between the knowledge introduced in the classroom and students' prior knowledge which translated into student mental models that do not meet some of the expectations of the course. Moreover, this study highlights the importance of the instructor's awareness of their own expectations for learning and knowledge synthetization in the design of an AFM course.



Conceptual Understanding, Concept Maps, Atmospheric Flight Mechanics