Part of the 4TU.Federation
Centre for
Engineering Education

Project introduction and background information

Structural Mechanics Ā is a fundamental subject in engineering bachelor curricula. Because the discipline presents a high level of mathematical formalism, the curriculum usually focuses on deriving the equations that describe Structural Mechanics phenomena. However, students struggle at understanding Structural MechanicsĀ  core concepts only from formulae. Laboratory practice seems a promising addition to the course because it could help students link theory to events in a real-world environment and interact with multiple representations, which scaffold conceptual understanding. Yet, with the great number of students in bachelor classes and lack of time and resources, it is often a problem to provide enough laboratory practice to everyone. Moreover, to be effective, lab activities have to be carefully designed and implemented. For this reason, the project follows the Design-Based Educational Research approach, a methodology to improve educational practices while developing design principles and theori

Objective and expected outcomes


  1. Design a low-cost portable lab for Structural Mechanics.
  2. Ā Investigate the impact of lab activities on conceptual understanding in Structural Mechanics.

Outcomes or Deliverables

  1. Prototype of the portable set-up, tested by students and refined.
    The final version is expected to afford several and different experiments on Structural Mechanics concepts and be used in a normal classroom or at home, tackling the problem of providing lab practice to a large number of bachelor students.
  2. Design principles for the development of the lab and the measurement of its effectiveness on students learning.
    This will allow the generalisation of the findings to other contexts (disciplines, faculties).

Results and learnings

  • Prefer discovery style of laboratory instruction over the validation (cook-book) approach, because it scaffolds studentsā€™ engagement with disciplinary concepts.
  • Create the opportunity for students to directly observe and experience the phenomenon bypassing the analytical model, because this allows students to arrive at an understanding of the phenomenon based on their observations.
  • Develop data processing tasks based on the use of different representations, such as free body diagrams, infinitesimal cube, load-displacement plots, and strains distributions. Guide students in extracting information from representations; translating between types of representations and build one representation from another. Many representations beyond formulae are needed to fully characterise Structural Mechanics phenomena, especially for students who never experienced these phenomena before.
  • In the final reflection, ask students to analyse data linking the observed physical events to the theoretical propositions. This helps students intertwine model and evidence-based reasoning and expanding their understanding of concepts.





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