Teaching rigid body mechanics using student-created virtual environments

Todd D. Murphey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This paper describes a recent effort to use student- created virtual environments to teach rigid body dynamics to electrical and computer engineering senior-level undergraduates and first-year graduate students. Many of these students have no background in dynamics except for their freshman year physics course. The approach described here relies on students creating their own virtual environments, takes roughly four to five weeks of instruction, and fits within the scope of other courses that may require electrical and computer engineering students to be familiar with dynamics. The background required consists of only basic linear algebra and ordinary differential equations. By the end of the pilot class, the majority of students were able to expertly model and animate high degree-of-freedom systems, such as slip-steered vehicles, helicopters, submarines, balancing unicycles, motorcycles, and puppets. A core component of the learning philosophy is that by providing students with a venue for creating their own virtual laboratories, they are able to promote their own learning. This paper summarizes the basic material presented to students, some of the virtual environments they chose to implement with only minimal guidance, and three instruments used to assess the effectiveness of the class architecture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-52
Number of pages8
JournalIEEE Transactions on Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Educational technology
  • Engineering education
  • Robot dynamics
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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