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CCLI-EMD: Development of a Finite Element Method Learning Environment for Undergraduates C.1. RESULTS FROM PRIOR NSF SUPPORT
C.1.1. Principal Investigator: Joseph J. Rencis – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) NSF Award Number: DGE-0231773 Program Name: Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Amount of Support: $1,081,764 Period of Support: 06/03 - 05/06 Title of Project: K-6 Gets a Piece of the PIEE–Partnerships Implementing Engineering Education Investigators: Judith E. Miller (PI) and Joseph J. Rencis (co-PI) This proposal was just starting when the proposal being considered was submitted. NSF Award Number: EEC-9820395 Program Name: Engineering Education and Centers Amount of Support: $139,843 Period of Support: 06/99 - 06/02 Title of Project: REU Site for Industrial Projects in Manufacturing Engineering Investigators: Mustapha Fofana (PI) and Joseph J. Rencis (co-PI) This proposal does not have a direct bearing on the proposal being considered. C.1.2. co-Principal Investigator: Javed Alam - Youngstown State University (YSU) Dr. Alam has not received any type of NSF grant in the last five years.
C.2. GOAL, OBJECTIVES AND OUTCOMES
The finite element method (FEM) has become the engineering tool of choice of practicing engineers in Civil, Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering to design and maintain the national infrastructure, e.g., buildings, highways, bridges, automobiles, airplanes, nuclear power plants, etc. This proposal is in response to the national awareness that most students and practicing engineers are well trained in using FEM software, but not particularly well educated in the best established practice of FEM [1,2]. The goal of this proof-of-concept project is to design, develop, assess and disseminate an open access finite element method learning environment (FEML) for teaching the fundamentals of FEM that can be used by students and practicing engineers. FEML will include the
assumptions and best established practices in FEM and strongly emphasize verifying and
checking the FEM analysis results. The three objectives of the proposed work for developing an FEML environment include the following: 1. E-learning Objects. Develop e-learning objects for FEM by using state-of-the-art recently established standards for the content creation by the World Wide Web (WWW) Consortium. Also include an open source e-learning management system for delivering the FEM course. 2. Web Site. Establish a web site to disseminate and deliver FEML to undergraduates and faculty members by becoming a service of the National Science Digital Library. 3. Evaluation Plan. Develop an assessment process to determine the effectiveness of the FEML environment based upon student work and feedback. The e-learning objectives of the FEML, and its evaluation, will be based on Bloom's Taxonomy  as follows: 1. FEM Model Characteristics (Knowledge). Know the physical and approximate behavior and usage of each model type commonly used in FEM practice. 2. Mechanics of Materials Theory (Comprehension). Understand the fundamentals of mechanics of materials theory. 3. FEM Theory (Comprehension). Understand the fundamental basis of finite element theory. 4. FEM Modeling Practice (Application). Be able to select a suitable finite element model for a given engineering problem. 5. FEM Hand Solutions (Application and Analysis). Be able to solve simple finite element problems by hand and compare the solution to that obtained by traditional mechanics of materials methods. 6. FEM Solution Interpretation and Verification (Comprehension and Evaluation). Be able to interpret and evaluate finite element solution quality, including importance of verification. 7. FEM in Design (Synthesis and Evaluation). Understand how FEM is used and applied in the design process.
8. FEM Assumptions and Limitations (Evaluation). limitations of FEM.
Be aware of the assumptions and
C.3. DETAILED PROJECT PLAN
C.3.1. What are the Project Features and Needs that will be Addressed in this Work and the Established Research Base on which this Project Builds? C.3.1.1. What are the Project Features and Needs that will be Addressed in this Work? The main feature of this work is the development of an e-learning environment for FEM. FEM is a mathematical technique that simulates physical behavior by means of an approximate numerical technique. Finite element analysis has always faced the challenge of modeling
complex real problems by replacing the real problems with carefully designed, yet easily manipulated simpler problems which obey the same fundamental principles. Today, FEM is one of the most widely used methods for solving problems in the areas of structural mechanics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer. This proposal will consider problems related to only linear static structural mechanics since it is the most frequently used . Years of experience with the method have shown that by understanding the fundamentals of the technique, real complex systems can be modeled with a reasonable degree of reliability. It is important to emphasize, however, that the reliability of the process is highly dependent on the skills of the engineer in the application of the method. Modern finite element software has become very sophisticated, and with the introduction of graphical pre- and post-processors, it has become very easy to use. Therefore, it is more important than ever to insure that the analyst, in his/her search for the best modeling method, correctly uses the appropriate tools available. There are four reasons why education, not training, is needed for undergraduate students. First, FEM is now a standard engineering tool for both analysis and (re)design in industry. Second, the usage of finite element technology in industry has grown 10 to 20 % per year since 1994 according to Peter Kingman  who has work in the field since 1975. This is due in part to the development of powerful, user-friendly and inexpensive personal computers. Another reason
is that companies have moved FEM into the early design stage to be more competitive [1,6]. Third, ‘General purpose finite element software is widely used by interdisciplinary teams of engineers. It is important for an engineer from almost any discipline to have an understanding of the finite element method .’ Fourth, most commercial finite element codes have excellent
tutorials that enable an engineer to obtain an answer to a posed problem model; however, they stop short of educating us how to determine if the calculated answer is the correct answer to the physical system. Typical finite element courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels are mainly theoretical in nature. The PI has found through teaching finite element short courses to industry in the New England area that 10-15% of the attendees who are practicing engineers have taken a FEM course at the undergraduate and/or graduate level. Furthermore, 60-70% have been
introduced to FEM only in a two to five day training course. These training courses enable a student or practicing engineer to ‘build a FEM model’ and have the FEM program run successfully to produce a solution. However, these software-training courses fall short of teaching the underlying nature of approximation involved in FEM software. This has led to misuse of finite element technology where, “Today, new users tend to believe that any results that look good are probably right .” Therefore, a person eager to use newly acquired software skills and unknowingly lacking a good grasp of the approximate nature of FEM and theory of mechanics of materials might be confident enough to design a sensitive structure, e.g., tall buildings, nuclear reactor plants, and airplanes. This lack of understanding may lead to an improper design resulting in catastrophic disaster! It is paramount that students and practicing engineers learn to be critical of their results and not get into the bad habit of accepting computergenerated answers on faith . Therefore, it is essential for students and practicing engineers to be not only well-trained, but also well-educated in applied fundamental finite element theory and mechanics of materials.
Vendors who are trying to sell their FEM software are creating a false perception that “You need not know everything about finite element analysis to successfully run today's analysis software .” We firmly believe that this is an inaccurate representation of facts and that there is a very strong need to educate students and practicing engineers in the proper usage of FEM. Therefore, it is extremely important that the user understand the widely used (and widely misused) practices of FEM. The assumptions and underlining limitations of the analysis tools that are inherent in FEM must be understood! Furthermore, the user must be educated to the point where it is ‘second nature’ to verify and check the FEM analysis results . C.3.1.2. What is the Established Research Base on Which this Project Builds? Currently FEM is being taught to undergraduate engineering and engineering technology students with the aid of a textbook and/or the assistance of a commercial software package. Almost all practicing engineers who missed a FEM university course take a FEM software training course offered by commercial vendors. Software training manuals are used throughout the course. The level of FEM textbooks can be categorized as introductory [11-16], intermediate  and advanced [23-27]. The shortcomings of all these textbooks range from being essentially void of any real discussion of the approximations built into FEM to placing too much emphasize on the FEM theory without reference to basic principles covered in freshman and sophomore engineering courses. Software courses [28-34] and training manuals [35-39] offered by software vendors emphasize the strengths of their own FEM software for marketing reasons and deemphasize the weaknesses, pitfalls and misconceptions about FEM. In this work three innovations are proposed over the currently established research base. 1. Case Studies. The first innovation focuses on teaching FEM using an approach that
overcomes existing weaknesses in the traditional approach. A holistic approach will be used where a problem with an exact solution is analyzed and verified through case studies where various FEM models are considered instead of a traditional, single FEM model.
2. E-learning Objects. The second innovation is in adaptation of the recently standardized techniques of Extensible Markup Language (XML) to the process of creating the e-content for the e-learning objects that will conform to the IMS/SCORM [40,42] specifications for elearning. 3. E-learning Management System. The third innovation is the adoption of an open source elearning management system that will make the e-learning objects accessible to all students and practicing engineers. This innovative approach makes it very easy for FEML to become the part of the National Digital Science Library (NSDL) system strongly supported by NSF. C.3.2. What do we Plan to Do and How do we Plan to Achieve the Outcomes Expected for the Project? The plan is to develop an open access FEML environment that consists of e-learning objects and e-learning management system. An open access FEM homepage called Finite Element Method universal resource (FEMur: http://femur.wpi.edu/) has resided on a WPI web server since 1996. FEMur is accessible via the WWW to the students and practicing engineers and is currently ranked 2nd out of 119,000 web sites on the #1 search engine Google.com using keyword (“finite element method”) when a search is performed. FEML will be integrated into the FEMur homepage by creating a set of e-learning FEM objects. The content of each e-learning FEM objects will be organized into an e-book and an electure. E-book will be further subdivided into four components that includes case study
introduction, case study theory, case study solution and case study simulation. E-lecture will cover the case study theory and selected case study solutions supporting the case study theory presented in e-book for the same e-learning object. The proposed format of the e-learning objects for this project is similar to the eCourses in Statics and Dynamics  successfully offered through the Engineering Media Lab  at the University of Oklahoma. The FEM e-learning objects to be developed are based on the PI’s experience teaching introductory undergraduate FEM course to Mechanical, Civil, Aerospace and Biomedical
Engineers at WPI. The undergraduate students are exposed to the fundamental theory of FEM and are required to complete twelve mini-scale projects and three full-scale projects to fulfill course requirements. Currently the course is taught in a traditional classroom environment. The full development proposal for the FEML environment will contain three full-scale case studies and twelve mini-scale case studies for a complete delivery of an introductory FEM course. However, to verify the effectiveness of the proposed FEML environment, we will implement one full-scale case study and two mini-scale case studies for the proof-of-concept. The major difference between the two cases studies is that the full-scale problems are much more complex than the mini-scale case studies. The full-scale case study centers on a simply supported beam with geometric discontinuities  that has an exact solution as shown in Figure C.1. The case study theory will include the three model types (i.e., beam, two-dimensional and three-dimensional) coupled with a review of sophomore mechanics of materials. The case study solution will introduce the students on how to model the problem using each model type. In a simulation case study, an open source FEM code is used to analyze each model type. This holistic approach provides a very valuable educational experience since a student or practicing engineer can compare each model and determine which model is valid, invalid and/or inappropriate when solving a problem.
m A B C
D x E n d
z L/2 L/2 2L
Figure C.1. Full-scale case study of simply supported beam. The three mini-scale case studies consist of an L-bracket, a thick-walled pressure vessel with a hole and a pin joint connection . The mini-scale case studies will follow the same format as the full-scale case study. For example, the mini-scale case study for a thick-walled
pressure vessel with a hole will have a case study introduction section, case study theory section, case study solution section and a case study simulation section. Both the full- and mini-scale case studies will be coupled to the e-book and e-lectures. The e-book and e-lectures will utilize the state-of-the-art web content development techniques that are recommended by the WWW Consortium . The e-learning objects will be created using XML [46,47], separating the content from the presentation logic. This will allow us to create e-learning object content that will not be obsolete due to changes in computer software and hardware. The e-learning object content in XML format will use XSL and XSLT  software transforms to produce the desired output that can be used by a different set of clients, e.g., desktop, laptop, PDA or a hard copy output to a printer. The e-learning objects will include multimedia elements. The graphical elements in the e-learning objects will be created using open standard technologies such as Scalar Vector Graphics (SVG) [49,50]. The mathematical equations in the e-learning objects will employ the use of Mathematical Markup Language (MATHML) [51,52,53]. The different elements of multimedia presentations (i.e., e-book and e-lectures) include pictures, sound and video that will be synchronized with the help of open XML standards such as SMIL [54,55]. All markup languages used in this work are recently established recommendation of the WWW Consortium and they form a body of XML standards. They are primarily text-based and therefore simplify the electronic content creation. More significantly, by using these markup languages, the content file size is fairly small, resulting in a significant reduction in network bandwidth. The content of the e-learning objects will be accessible by any type of client computer system that is connected to the Internet. The packaging of the e-learning objects will conform to the standards set by the standard bodies such as IMS Global Learning Consortium [40,41]. Furthermore, e-learning objects will include the appropriate metadata tags to accurately provide the electronic description of these
objects by using the Dublin Core set of standards . The e-learning objects will also follow the guidelines established by NSF for metadata creation set at the web site . This approach will allow the e-learning objects to become a part of the National Digital Science Library (NSDL)  as required by NSF for any digital content. The packaging of the e-learning objects as “Object Learning Modules”  will facilitate a standard base for partial or complete content sharing between two institutions without making any changes to the original content. Furthermore, the Object Learning Modules can be used in statics  and mechanics of materials [7,61-66] courses where FEM has been introduced in recent years. The e-learning objects will be wrapped inside an open source e-learning management system, CompreHensive collaborativE Framework (Chef) , currently being developed at the University of Michigan to create the FEML environment. This helps the instructor in organizing and delivering course information to the students and practicing engineers. It provides a
collaborative environment where students and practicing engineers can interact with the instructor and can also interact with each other while the computer performs the functions of coordination and archiving of this activity. A fully functional web site for the proof-of-concept FEML environment will be established at WPI. All the software components employed to establish the FEML environment will be open source software, therefore, they can be shared and disseminated without any licensing problems. The full-development proposal will include Case Western Reserve
University and California State University Los Angles. Letters of support from these institutions can be found in the Supplementary Documents. C.3.3. What is the Timetable for Executing the Project? The project timeline for executing each task and the roles of the PI and co-PI are shown in Table C.2. Details regarding the PI and co-PI roles for each task can be found in Section C.4.2 and their roles in assessment tool development and course evaluation are in Section C.5.
The PI will recruit three undergraduate students from his FEM course to develop FEML. The undergraduate students will use this work to satisfy their senior project. The senior project is equivalent to three courses and is one-quarter of the academic year full-time. Table C.2. Project tasks, PI and co-PI roles, and timeline. 2004 Roles*
Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug
Develop E-learning Objects PI/co-PI E-learning Management System co-PI/PI Web and co-PI/PI Application Server Develop FEML Environment co-PI/PI Develop Assessment Tools PI/co-PI Course Evaluation PI Dissemination and PI=co-PI Project Report * Primary role of completing that task will reside with the person shown first with “/” and is equally shared with “=.”
C.3.4. What are the Facilities and Resources Available for Realizing the Project Objectives? The facilities and resources that will be required to realize the project objectives in Section C.2 are dependent on having the appropriate software tools and hardware to create and deliver FEML. Table C.2 shows the media types and corresponding software tools that will be used, and most are available at WPI and YSU. FEML will be an open access resource that will be created for the WWW and the container that will be used is a browser. The browser is the FEML control center and is used to deliver, organize, navigate and link e-learning material. Industry standard software will be employed since it will be portable and provide marketable job skills for the students at WPI and YSU who develop FEML. The hardware will consist of a WPI Mechanical Engineering Dual Pentium Xeon 1 GHz to deliver FEML over the Internet. In general, the CPU is not a big issue, but more important is the large bandwidth Internet connection at WPI (Top 30 Most Wired Campuses)  that will allow us to provide open access to undergraduate students and faculty members worldwide. Other hardware that will be needed includes a digital camera, digital video camera, scanner, and CD readers and recorders. All this hardware is available at WPI and YSU.
Table C.2. Media types and software tools used to create FEML. Media Type Software Tool(s) Company (Organization)
Authoring: Browser Dynamic HTML Content Editor XML Editor Graphics Vector-based Drawing (SVG) Math Equations (MATHML) FEM Data Creation Modeling/Animation/Rendering Web Animation (SMIL) Video Editing Sound Editing Server-side Scripting Language Server Database Web Server Software/Application Server E-learning Management System
MathPlayer & MathTypeWPI
XMLSPYWPI,YSU Photoshop Illustrator
Algor/MathCad/Excel Carrara Real Network Player Premiere Cool Edit Pro PHP/JSP MySQL Apache/Tomcat Chef
Microsoft/Netscape/Mozilla Adobe Altova Adobe Adobe Design Science Algor/MathSoft/Microsoft Eovia Real Network Adobe Syntrillium PHP.org/Java Community Process MySQL AB Apache Foundation/Sun Microsystems
The Regents of the University of Michigan
Not available at WPI.
Not available at YSU.
C.4. EXPERIENCE AND CAPABILITY OF THE PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORS
C.4.1. Expertise of the Investigators The PI, Dr. Joseph J. Rencis, has been a Professor and Director of Engineering Mechanics in the Mechanical Engineering Department at WPI since 1985. The PI has been doing research in the areas of finite elements and boundary elements for over twenty years. He has been a consultant for the development of the commercial finite element code PC-TRAN. The PI has introduced and taught undergraduate and graduate FEM courses. He has also taught six short courses to practicing engineers in the New England area, including companies like Gillette and Bose. In the educational area, he has 5 journal and 12 conference publications. He has been the Chair of the ASEE Mechanics Division, a fellow of the ASME, recipient of the WPI Mechanical Engineering Outstanding Teacher Award, and 2002 ASEE New England Section Outstanding Teacher Award. He is currently an ABET Program Evaluator and has served as the EC2000 committee chair for Mechanical Engineering at WPI. The co-PI, Dr. Javed Alam, has been a Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at YSU since 1982. He has been doing research in the areas of structural mechanics, expert system development, neural networks, and the use of technology in the learning process for over twenty years. The co-PI has introduced and taught graduate level
introductory and advanced FEM courses. In the educational area, he has 7 journal and 10 conference publications. He has been a control group member of the ASCE Education and ASCE Electronic Communication Committees. He has received a Microsoft cooperative
instruction grant, NSF ILI grant, and NASA-JOVE grant. The co-PI has been very active in promoting the use of technology in the teaching and learning process, in particular, the use of WWW. He has been actively pursuing the latest developments in e-content creation and web server technologies. He introduced a graduate level course that includes the use of these
technologies and is currently a co-PI on an instructional grant from the Ohio Learning Network  to create a complete on-line course in this area. The co-PI has received three distinguished professorship awards from YSU. C.4.2. Roles of PI and co-PI The PIs are well qualified to pursue this project as evidenced from their professional experiences and their roles in the project are shown in Table C.2. The PI will be primarily responsible for creating the e-learning objects and the assessment and evaluation of these objects. The PI will also be responsible for the final implementation of the FEML environment at WPI, that will include a fully functional web site for the prototype FEML environment. The co-PI will actively collaborate with the PI in every aspect of this work with the exception of the classroom evaluation process. The co-PI will primarily be responsible for the technical aspects of the XML based technologies that will be used in creating content for the e-learning objects. He will also be primarily responsible for the implementation aspects of the e-learning management system and the web and application server to complete the FEML environment. The PI and co-PI will have an equal role in the dissemination and project report. C.4.3. Past Collaboration The PI and co-PI have cooperated together over the last eight years, their joint efforts resulting in 3 journal papers, 5 conference papers and 3 presentations in the area of technology in engineering education. An open access FEM homepage called Finite Element Method universal
resource (FEMur: http://femur.wpi.edu/) was developed by the PI and co-PI in collaboration with WPI undergraduate students in 1996 [70,71]. FEMur is accessible via the WWW to students and practicing engineers. FEMur is currently ranked 2nd out of 119,000 web sites on the #1 search engine Google.com using keyword (“finite element method”) when a search is performed.
C.5. EVALUATION PLAN
Assessment, evaluation and continuous improvement of the e-learning objects are crucial to the success of this proof-of-concept project. The PI will work throughout the assessment and evaluation process with the WPI Center for Educational Development, Technology and Assessment (CEDTA) and Paula Quinn (Biographical Sketch in Section E.3) an educational assessment consultant to the Center. The prototype FEML learning environment will be
evaluated in an undergraduate FEM course by the PI at WPI. Table C.2 shows the timeframe for assessment tool development and evaluation in these courses. The PI will recruit two
undergraduate students to participate in the evaluation plan. The undergraduate students will use this work to satisfy their junior project. The junior project is equivalent to three courses and is one-quarter of the academic year full-time. The two part evaluation plan will first focus on a qualitative evaluation of the FEML learning environment and traditional versus non-traditional learning modes, and the second part a quantitative evaluation of student work. In the first part of the evaluation plan questions will be asked to gather data about FEML’s utility and ease-of-use. Direct feedback will also be
obtained from student’s on the FEML environment leading to enhance the learning process. Feedback regarding the issues of student interest and motivation in the study of the subject matter will be considered. Questions regarding the effectiveness of two distinct learning modes will be included. Finally, students will be asked to assess their own perception of what they learned in the e-learning objects. The second part of the evaluation plan will consider student work. A pre-test will be administered to students after they have been introduced to FEM in class, and a post-test to be
given after the students complete a traditional elementary modeling and analysis assignment. Control classes will complete the assignment using textbooks and traditional FEM software. Treatment classes will use FEML to do the same assignment. Rubrics will be used for evaluation so that consistent scores are assigned to student work . The PI and co-PI will design homework by Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives  and they are consistent with the evaluation criteria discussed at the end of Section C.2. The assessment of this work will indicate what level of performance students are achieving. The PI can also use these results to focus instruction to the appropriate level.
C.6. DISSEMINATION OF RESULTS
C.6.1. Electronic Web Dissemination Dissemination of the e-learning object will be achieved by developing a fully functional web site at WPI. Students and faculty at the participating institutions and every other institution that has access to the Internet, will have access twenty-four hours a day to this material. Furthermore, a link to FEML environment will be publicized at other web sites such as World Lecture Hall at UT-Austin , MIT OpenCourseWare , and any other sites that accept links for this type of material. Since FEML environment will be in full conformance with metadata standards of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL)  initiative, it will serve a very useful purpose in this national library by contributing towards national information and learning infrastructure. The complete FEML environment will also be downloadable from the same web site if someone wants this as part of their own teaching/learning environment. They will be provided a reasonable amount of technical support by the PI and co-PI to further develop and modify this environment to suit their own teaching and learning style. A serious attempt will be made to keep the process of installation, maintenance, and any modification to this environment as simple as possible. It would be desirable to develop a system so that an instructor or a student would be
able to learn the use of this environment in no more than 30 minutes. For the faculty who desire to modify or maintain the FEML environment at their own institutions, it will require a greater time commitment on their part. C.6.2. Conference Presentations/Publications and Journal Publications Educational conferences that will be targeted in order to present and publish the proposed work include the ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, ASEE New England Sectional Conference and the ASEE North Central Sectional Conference. Results will be submitted for publication in educational journals including the ASEE Journal of Engineering Education, the International Journal of Engineering Education, and the Global Journal of Engineering Education. The ASEE Prism magazine will also be targeted. C.6.3. Procedure for Determining Dissemination Success We will identify the potential audience for the FEML environment and then we will launch an e-mail campaign to promote the FEML web site. We will require a free web site registration from the visitors for tracking purposes. We will then monitor the web log for the visitors who came to the site and the number of downloads made from the site. C.6.4. Broader Impacts The broader impacts of this work will be the creation of an educational resource that is valuable to the participating institutions and the academic and engineering communities at large. FEML will be dissmenated electonically by establishing a fully functional web site at WPI. The e-learning objects will be designed to support a synchronous and an asynchronous e-learning environments providing a solid foundation for technological literacy. The e-learning objects can be utilized in Civil, Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering for teaching and elearning. Since FEML environment will be in full conformance with metadata standards of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL)  initiative, it will serve a very useful purpose in this national library by contributing towards national information and learning infrastructure.
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