STAR: A structural analysis resource
William H. Blackmon, Carnegie Mellon University, United States
Carnegie Mellon University . Awarded
Common computer applications such as Maple and Excel can aid students in structural analysis courses by automating routine, time-consuming calculations. However, students have not taken advantage of these tools to solve homework problems because the students: (1) have no sample problems worked out as worksheets; (2) have difficulty transferring the knowledge gained from traditional paper and pencil problems to the language used in the tools; (3) have difficulty creating worksheets for these tools that are correct both syntactically and semantically, i.e., that are both understandable by the tool and accurately represent the structural analysis problem; and (4) have difficulty reusing existing worksheets to solve new problems, and creating worksheets that are reusable.
In this thesis, a Structural Analysis Resource (STAR) is described that addresses these difficulties by adding a layer of abstraction between the student and the tools. STAR provides an environment in which students, professors, and textbook authors create hierarchical abstractions of calculations to model structural analysis concepts. A simple graphical modeling language is used to represent these abstracted calculations. Students use this graphical language to represent their problem-solving strategy, and STAR translates the strategy to a worksheet for one of the target applications, currently Maple and Excel. STAR's design allows support to be added for other applications such as Mathematica and Matlab.
A key pedagogical advantage of STAR is its use of hierarchical abstractions. Unlike black box programs which only provide a student with the answers, STAR behaves as a glass box--a student can expand the abstractions to the lowest level calculations within STAR and can follow the calculations in the worksheets. This ensures that a student does not become a blind user of technology, but can explore the underlying mathematics in his problem-solving strategy and can reinforce his understanding of the material.
Blackmon, W.H. STAR: A structural analysis resource. Ph.D. thesis, Carnegie Mellon University.
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