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Community of Practice for Mechanics
in Engineering

About this project

The Adaptive Mechanics Portal represents a collaboration between 7 leading universities to create a pioneering suite of Adaptive Tutorials that teach key threshold concepts in first year mechanics. The Portal was inspired by the initiatives of Prof. Ganga Prusty and a successful pilot in the mechanics course in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at UNSW. This was subsequently expanded to a Community of Practice project with the support of the Australian Learning & Teaching Council (ALTC). These Adaptive Tutorials are interactive and highly engaging and provide students with a personalized learning experience that adapt the instruction level to the students' level of understanding. These Adaptive Tutorials have been shown to significantly improve student learning and reduce failure rate. Any of these Adaptive Tutorials are available at no cost to academics teaching in an Australian university. Each Adaptive Tutorial can be personalized by the academic to meet their own requirements and be adapted over time to teach more effectively. The teacher has access to rich activity data for individual and group performance which can include an integration through a Moodle plug-in to their Learning Management System (LMS). The Adaptive Tutorials have been developed using Smart Sparrow's Adaptive eLearning Platform. With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, and where otherwise noted, all material presented in this document is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence ( The details of the relevant licence conditions are available on the Creative Commons website (accessible using the links provided) as is the full legal code for the CC BY 3.0 AU licence ( [youtube url="" height="100" width="100"]

University logos

Project team

Team member

Prof. Gangadhara Prusty

Gangadhara Prusty is an engineering educator with lengthy teaching experience, has contributed significantly to the enhancement of student learning. Using a blend of traditional and contemporary teaching methods, he has helped students understand the key threshold concepts of the mechanics courses effectively. He is the recipient of a number of awards including the UNSW Vice Chancellor's Teaching Excellence Award, National Citation Award by Australian Learning & Teaching Council (ALTC) for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning and the Lecturer of the Year award in 2010.

Team member

Prof. Timothy J McCarthy

Tim McCarthy is Professor of Structural Steel and Design at the University of Wollongong. Prior to taking up this position in 2004, he was Senior Lecturer in Structural Engineering at the University of Manchester, UK. He holds BE (Civil) and PhD from University College Cork, Ireland and MSc in Offshore Structures from Cranfield University. In 2010 he was awarded an ALTC Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning in Engineering Mechanics.

Team member

Anne Gardner

Anne has significant experience in guiding civil engineering students at UTS in learning mechanics and structural design as well as contributing to the professional practice subjects in the engineering program at UTS. Anne's educational research interests include learning and teaching of engineering mechanics, and learning through collaborative activities including self and peer assessment. She was a project team member on a previous ALTC project concerning mechanics: A Pro-Active Approach to Addressing Student Learning Diversity in Engineering Mechanics. Anne is also involved in the development of the online assessment tool SPARKPLUS. She was a member of the AaeE Executive Committee from 2007 - 2010. In 2009 she was awarded a UTS Team Teaching Award and in 2010 was awarded an ALTC Citation and the AaeE Teaching Excellence Award.

Team member

Dr. Roberto Ojeda Rabanal

Roberto Ojeda is the Course Coordinator for the BEng in Naval Architecture program at the Australian Maritime College National Centre for Maritime Engineering and Hydrodynamics (AMC/NCMEH), an institute of the University of Tasmania. He has been actively involved in the improvement of the 1st and 2nd year engineering mechanics units at AMC/NCMEH, focusing on the design and implementation of new activities to challenge students to apply their theoretical knowledge to real life problems.

Team member

Zora Vrcelj

Dr Zora Vrcelj completed a BE (Hons 1, 1999) in Civil engineering from the University of Wollongong, followed by a PhD degree (2004) at the University of New South Wales. She is currently a senior lecturer in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Her current main research interests are composite steel-concrete construction, the stability of steel structures, biomimetics and innovations in structural engineering education.

Team member

Dr. Robin Ford

In thirty years at The School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Robin Ford’s many innovations included the award-winning “First year Labweek” (with Dr T Barber). He was Director of Teaching in the School, and for the Faculty coordinated the development and first implementations of its common 1st year Design course for over nine hundred students. He continues his scholarly and practical interest in teaching engineering mechanics.

Team member

Dr. Nadine Marcus

Nadine is a Senior Lecturer in Human Computer Interaction within the School of Computer Science and Engineering, UNSW. She has a cross-disciplinary background: BSc in Computer Science & Psychology (Wits), BSc Honours in Experimental Psychology (UCT), and PhD in Education (UNSW). Her research focuses on the design of multimedia educational technology that improves learning. The research involves both the collection of empirical data, so results can inform multimedia theories of instructional design, as well as being the UNSW academic leader of research within the Adaptive eLearning Platform (AeLP) project. She has contributed to interface and instructional design, as well as platform evaluation and student learning outcomes.

Team member

Dr. Carol Russell

Dr Carol Russell is a Senior Lecturer in the Teaching Development Unit at the University of Western Sydney. She has experience in engineering, in technical publishing and with the UK Open University in distance education. Since 2000 she has worked in campus universities in Australia, including UNSW, specializing in use of educational technology. She has degrees in Applied Physics and Management, and her PhD is in e-learning adoption in campus universities.

Team member

Prof. Roger Hadgraft

Roger Hadgraft is an ALTC Discipline Scholar in Engineering and ICT. He has led curriculum change in several engineering disciplines, with a focus on problem/project-based learning (PBL) at Monash, RMIT and Melbourne Universities. At RMIT, he also co-established the multidisciplinary Master of Sustainable Practice. In 2012, Roger returned to RMIT to lead a new, cross-disciplinary program in Sustainable Systems Engineering. He is a Governing Board member of the International Research in Engineering Education Network.

Team member

A/Prof. Tom Molyneaux

As Deputy Head - Learning and Teaching in the School of Civil Environmental and Chemical Engineering at RMIT University, Tom Molyneaux is responsible for the management and conduct of the courses and teaching programs across the School. Key educational pursuits include developing methods to assess conceptual learning and he has an active interest in techniques of management and assessment of group based project work - particularly involving large class sizes. Current responsibilities include 1st year project based courses - Engineering Skills and Environmental Principles.



Adaptive Tutorials using eLearning Platform for Solid Mechanics Course in Engineering

The paper presents the concept, development and outcome following the development and implementation of a set of interactive teaching and learning tools for Mechanics courses in Engineering. The tools are designed, using Adobe Flex and Flash software and are hosted on the Adaptive eLearning platform (AeLP).


Towards a Community of Practice Concerning the Use of Adaptive Tutorials in Engineering Mechanics

This paper outlines current work that seeks to address persistent challenges in Engineering Mechanics education, through the development of Adaptive Tutorials that target threshold concepts in this field. Adaptive Tutorials are interactive online modules where an Intelligent Tutoring System adapts the instruction level to learners, based on their individual performance.


Engaging students in learning threshold concepts in engineering mechanics: adaptive eLearning tutorials

In learning mechanics fundamentals in engineering, many students struggle with basic concepts, and as a result fail to engage in the more rewarding higher level problem solving tasks where they learn in more depth. A good tutor can walk a student through sticking points and give customised feedback and encouragement. But such individual teacher-student conversations are rare in 1st and 2nd year undergraduate classes with several hundred students and limited numbers of tutors.


Adaptive Tutorials to target Threshold Concepts in Mechanics -a Community of Practice Approach

We present our work on introducing Adaptive Tutorials in first and second year mechanics courses in Engineering. Adaptive Tutorials are interactive online modules where an Intelligent Tutoring System adapts the instruction level to learners, based on their individual performance. Through an ALTC-funded project, we formed a community of practice of Engineering Mechanics educators from a range of Australian universities.

Project final report

The project report describes the project (ALTC CG 10-1586) details and presents the findings from the research involved. The project explored the use of online eLearning Adaptive Tutorials (ATs) in engineering courses and developed a Community of Practice (CoP) for Mechanics courses in engineering at Australian universities. Teaching threshold concepts to students in the large classes of 1st and 2nd year engineering mechanics courses is an ever challenging task. High failure rates, potentially due to students not grasping “threshold concepts”, is a continuing concern, as is demand for targeted methods to overcome the situation. Despite many studies and techniques used to identify reasons and to improve learning performance, the problem still persists. The objectives of this project were to:

  • develop a set of ATs covering identified core threshold concepts,
  • incorporate ATs into the course syllabi at partner institutions,
  • conduct staff training workshops,
  • develop a web-based community portal featuring all ATs
  • develop comprehensive support material for students and teachers.

The ATs were trialled with over twelve hundred engineering mechanics students in two separate studies over a period of three years from 2009 to 2011. Use of ATs in engineering mechanics courses was successful. Overall, students’ self-reported ratings were positive. Analyses of students’ course performances showed different effects for low and high performing students and allowed implementers to evaluate and adapt their strategy to use Adaptive tutorials accordingly. To view the full final report, click on the PDF image to the right.