Design guidelines for laboratory learning activities in structural mechanics

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Structural Mechanics (SM) is a fundamental subject in engineering bachelor curricula. Since experimental investigations play a central role in the discipline, laboratory practice is often present in SM courses. Many instructors recognize in laboratory activities, not only a way to develop laboratory skills and appreciation of the scientific method, but also a chance to reinforce students’ conceptual understanding of the discipline. However, there is evidence that laboratory instruction is not always successful in achieving conceptual understanding. To address this problem, the goal of the presented study is to investigate how laboratory activities can be designed to support students' conceptual understanding of SM. First, the disciplinary body of knowledge is analysed through Johnstone’s model of multilevel thought. In SM, as in Physics and in Chemistry, phenomena are analysed at different scales: the phenomenological level, the invisible level, and the symbolic level. The understanding of most Structural Mechanics concepts relies on linking the phenomenological world to the underlying invisible world using symbolic representations such as equations, diagrams, experimental data plots, and physics models. To transition and translate between “levels of thoughts” and understand SM concepts, representational competence and abilities in model-based reasoning are
needed. In the next paragraphs, a review of successful studies from similar subjects is presented, where the learning activities targeted representations and model reasoning in laboratory settings. The findings are summarised in a set of design guidelines to help instructors develop successful laboratory learning activities for SM.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings SEFI 48th Annual Conference
Subtitle of host publicationEngaging Engineering Education Conference
EditorsJan van der Veen, Natascha van Hattem-Janssen, Hannu-Matti Järvinen, Tinne de Laet, Ineke ten Dam
ISBN (Electronic)978-2-87352-020-5
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Event48th SEFI Annual Conference (Online): Engaging Engineering Education - Online hosted by University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands
Duration: 20 Sept 202024 Sept 2020


Conference48th SEFI Annual Conference (Online)
Abbreviated titleSEFI 48th Annual Conference
OtherVirtual/online event due to COVID-19
Internet address

Bibliographical note

Virtual/online event due to COVID-19


  • challenge-based learning
  • learning ecosystems
  • Motivation
  • Decision making
  • student-centred approach


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