Collaborative Research: Changing Homework Achievement with Mechanix Pedagogy (CHAMP)

Kimberly Talley
Associate Professor
Texas State University

Many introductory engineering courses in universities have hundreds of students, and some online classes are even larger. Instructors in these circumstances often turn to online homework systems to help greatly reduce the grading burden. These systems, however, do come with the cost of reducing the quality of feedback that students can receive versus paper homework. This difference of feedback quality is largely due to the types of problems that can be assigned. Typically, online systems can only automatically grade multiple choice or numeric answer questions. As such, students often do not receive feedback on the critical skill of sketching free-body diagrams (FBD).

Guiding Question:
To what extent can a web-based sketch-recognition program engage students in learning statics concepts whilst providing immediate feedback on homework submissions?

During this project a sketch-recognition based tutoring system called Mechanix, which requires students to draw FBDs in addition to grading their final answers, was converted from a computer-based to web-based application. Mechanix provides immediate feedback to students about their FBDs that is not provided by typical online homework systems and thus would otherwise be difficult for instructors to provide in large classes. Additionally, Mechanix was further developed to add the ability to grade open-ended truss design problems with a countless number of solutions.

Students in this study used Mechanix for one to three homework assignments covering FBDs, static truss analysis, and an open-ended truss design problem. Preliminary results suggest the system increases homework engagement and effort for students who are struggling and is as effective as other homework systems for teaching statics. Focus groups showed students enjoyed using Mechanix and that it helped their learning process.

Broader Impacts:
Mechanix has been in use over six semesters at five different universities by over 1,000 students to study its effectiveness in Statics, Dynamics, and Structural Analysis classes. The universities in the study were selected to increase the diversity of the study participants and include a large, highly-selective, public university, a small private university, and three large, Hispanic-serving public universities. Beyond the diversity of the research participants, this study is developing a software package that can be used by other universities to provide feedback on the sketching of students’ FBDs while completing their homework.


Kristi Shryock, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX; Benjamin Caldwell, LeTourneau University, Longview, TX; Vimal Viswanathan, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA; Tracy Hammond, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX; Matthew Runyon, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX; and Julie Linsey, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA