Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences


This study explores the multitude of factors contributing to high fail rates among students studying first year engineering Mechanics, where fail rates in the order of 20-40% are common and persist across cohorts. Previous studies in the field of engineering Mechanics education have tended to focus on particular issues in the teaching and learning experience, or learning specific topic areas. The purpose of this study was to develop a more holistic understanding of first year engineering Mechanics education than has been conducted to date.

The research examined learning and teaching in first year engineering Mechanics courses at the University of Wollongong, The University of Tasmania, the University of Technology, Sydney, and the Australian Maritime College at UTAS. Multiple research methods were used to explore teaching and learning in Mechanics, separated into five lines of investigation. These lines of investigation were informed by five research subquestions: • What are students expected to learn in first year engineering Mechanics? • What are the key topic areas students have difficulty with? • What is the relationship between students’ academic history and their achievement in Mechanics? • What are the views of students and academics on first year engineering Mechanics education? • How do students engage with new and different options for learning Mechanics?

Each of these lines of investigation offered different perspectives on the issue of high fail rates in Mechanics. The research was underpinned by Biggs’ 3P (Presage, Process, Product) model of teaching and learning. The 3P model provided a framework for identifying possible relationships between the various issues identified in each of the five areas of investigation. Research findings were mapped to the 3P model to create a holistic understanding of the many factors contributing to high fail rates in first year Mechanics courses.

Mapping of research findings to the 3P model identified significant weaknesses in engineering Mechanics education in terms of its ability to support a wide array of student learning needs, and in the management of students and educators expectations of the teaching and learning process. This mapping process also identified a number of limitations in the 3P model itself.

This thesis proposes a revised 3P model that takes into account the complexities and contextual influences that are evident in Mechanics education. The revised 3P-student responsive model, abbreviated to 3P-sr, provides a framework for designing engineering Mechanics education that is based on evidence drawn directly from Mechanics education. The 3P-sr model creates a clearer representation of the influences and possible interactions between student and teacher-controlled aspects of the educational process. It emphasises the cyclic nature of teaching and learning in Mechanics, and reflects the need for a more purposeful and flexible interaction between student and teacher. The model provides a guide for the future development of engineering Mechanics courses that are more flexible, and responsive to the wide ranging learning needs of students studying Mechanics that were identified in this research. Whilst the 3P-sr model is not tested in this research, its development from the wide range of evidence presented in this mixedmethods research represents a novel contribution to addressing the problem of high fail rates in engineering Mechanics courses.

FoR codes (2008)

130212 Science, Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.