Initial Work Towards a Mobile-Based Free Body Diagram Application

Andrew Sloboda
Assistant Professor
Bucknell University

Over 600,000 students enter an undergraduate engineering program in the United States every year. Many of these students learn to draw free body diagrams (FBDs) as a tool to visualize and model physical systems. Traditional methods of learning to draw FBDs, via classroom instruction and homework practice, suffer from a lack of immediate feedback that may hinder the learning process. Thus, developing alternative pathways for students to learn and practice drawing FBDs are warranted.The goal of this work is to develop a mobile-based application that will improve the ability of students to draw and analyze FBDs. The potential advantages of such an application include asynchronous opportunities for practice, immediate feedback, and gamification of FBD tasks that incentivize student engagement. Additionally, it is hypothesized that puzzle-based gameplay in such an environment will improve the self-efficacy of students, particularly women, leading to both better skill development and better retention of underrepresented students.Early work on the application has resulted in a functional program in which students drag forces and moments onto bodies to create FBDs, replacing supports such as rollers, pins, fixed-supports, and cables. Participatory design via student focus groups has been conducted that will be used to refine the interface and content. Next stages of the project will focus on building new types of gameplay tasks and incorporating scenarios involving different levels of real-world context (e.g., sketches vs photographs).By developing a tool that will allow students to practice and receive immediate feedback drawing FBDs, the hope is to improve student skills and self-efficacy. Because women may feel less confident in regarding spatial tasks, deployment of the application should boost retention of women in mechanical engineering. Additionally, the application will be a way to unobtrusively collect data on student process and performance while drawing FBDs; this may lead to additional insights into how to improve FBD instruction.


Sarah Wodin-Schwartz, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA; Jennifer deWinter, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA; Kimberly LeChesseur, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA