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Undergraduate Finite Element Instruction Using Commercial Finite Element Software Tutorials and the Kolb Learning Cycle

[+] Author Affiliations
Ashland O. Brown

University of the Pacific

Paper No. IMECE2004-60756, pp. 83-90; 8 pages
  • ASME 2004 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Computers and Information in Engineering
  • Anaheim, California, USA, November 13 – 19, 2004
  • Conference Sponsors: Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 0-7918-4704-7 | eISBN: 0-7918-4178-2, 0-7918-4179-0, 0-7918-4180-4
  • Copyright © 2004 by ASME


As background, the Kolb learning cycle describes an entire cycle around which a learning experience progresses [1]. The goal, therefore, is to structure learning activities that will proceed completely around this cycle, providing the maximum opportunity for full student comprehension of the course material. This model has been used previously to evaluate and enhance teaching in engineering [2, 3, and 4]. Most college education is geared toward abstract conceptualiztion, but complete learning is enhanced by the use of all four learning stages Abstract Hypothesis and Conceptualization, Active Experimentation, Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation. Some parts of this paper were presented at an earlier conference [13]. The Finite Element (FE) method is a numerical procedure that is widely used to analyze engineering problems accurately and quickly in many corporations. It has become an essential and powerful analytical tool in designing products with ever-shorter development cycles [5, 6, and 7]. The use of commercial finite element software tutorials along with the Kolb model of learning has been used for the past three years to instruct undergraduate students in an introductory FE course. This paper provides outlines of the use of the commercial software tutorials using two Kolb learning cycles, a global learning cycle for the course and a micro learning cycle for the FE tutorials. The commercial FE software tutorials provide an excellent method to reinforce student’s retention of this complex numerical procedure. The software tutorials provide hands-on learning experiences that students need to reinforce the theoretical concepts covered in the lectures. The students are provided “Abstract Hypothesis/Conceptual Theory” that begins with the background of the FE method, fundamental mathematics of FE, move through the concept of “stiffness-analysis,” one-dimensional direct stiffness analysis of various structures, the topology of the various finite elements, error analysis of FE results, and concludes with engineering analysis of a typical engineering problem. These activities are interlaced with the hands-on MSC.Nastran1 software tutorials that begin stating the proposed problem in a manner that is “real-world” in nature then the student is supplied with background theory for the analysis they will attempt. The tutorials provide specific instructions on how to build the FE model of the problem using this commercial FEM code. The tutorial includes a step-by-step outline of the problem modeling with text and illustrations. The student then performs the analysis. Instead of doing this in a blind manner, the tutorial provides a connection to the abstract theory of FE and asks the student to perturb certain parameters in the model to predict the results apriori. This causes the students to make connections between the modeling techniques and the IMECE2004-60756 Undergraduate Finite Element Instruction using Commercial Finite Element Software Tutorials and the Kolb Learning Cycle underlying physics. This focuses in on the “Active Experimentation” part of Kolb’s cycle. After the student performs the analysis, they are asked to attempt to explain the differences between the FEM modeling and theoretical results. This requires students to engage in the “Reflective Observation” portion of Kolb’s cycle. In designing the learning experiences to completely transverse the Kolb cycle, students are fully engaged to understand the fundamentals of FE modeling and maximize the learning experience the tutorials provide. Near the conclusion of this course students are asked to develop prototype models of designs for engineering problems using FE and then asked to conduct experiments to verify their FE analysis. The Kolb model describes an entire cycle around which learning experiences progress Abstract Hypothesis and Conceptualization, Active Experimentation, Concrete Experience and Reflective Observation, and is shown below in Figure 1.

Copyright © 2004 by ASME



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