Engineering Thermodynamics Concept Inventory Assessment Instruments



The goal is to develop a simple inventory to test change in the conceptual understanding of thermodynamics by students from the beginning and to the end of an introductory thermodynamics course. Thermodynamics is taught as a two-course sequence in many mechanical engineering curricula, so two instruments, "beginning" and "intermediate," are eventually desirable. Initially, the focus of the project is on development of an instrument for the first course.

The Thermodynamics Concept Inventory has been motivated by the Force Concept Inventory created by Halloun and Hestenes [1-4] and its impact on physics education. The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) was designed to measure conceptual, not computational, understanding of Newtonian Mechanics. The questions are posed to focus on intuitive comprehension independent of knowledge of the terminology or numerical modeling. Following the lead of the FCI, faculty members are creating concept inventories for other disciplines. More information about concept inventories can be found in a paper by Evans and Hestenes.[5]
For more information or to obtain a copy of the thermodynamics concept inventory, please contact Clark Midkiff, Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Alabama.
Typical Student Background

The typical student entering a first thermodynamics course will already have taken:

  • one or two semesters of calculus
  • one or two semesters of chemistry
  • a semester of physics
Chemistry and physics both introduce concepts that are used extensively in a thermodynamics course. From chemistry, a typical student has been exposed to:
  • behavior, phases and properties of substances
  • ideal gas relations
  • balancing simple chemical reactions
  • heat and temperature
  • chemical thermodynamics and equilibrium
From physics, a typical student has been exposed to:
  • forms of energy- kinetic, potential, internal
  • work
  • temperature, temperature scales
  • heat, specific heat, latent heat
  • thermodynamic processes (isothermal, etc.)
  • First and Second Laws
  • conversion of heat to work, entropy.
Subject Matter Categories

To develop the thermodynamics concept inventory (TCI), course pre-concepts were classified:

  • basic concepts and definitions
  • properties and behavior of matter
  • work and heat
  • mass conservation
  • First Law of Thermodynamics
  • Second Law of Thermodynamics

TCI Development Process

Following an examination of the classification of subject material, the authors "brainstormed" to develop potential questions. Common student misconceptions observed by the authors and colleagues in teaching undergraduate thermodynamics were the primary basis for question development.

TCI Development Process Distribution

The present version of the TCI has 30 questions with this distribution:

  • basic concepts and definitions- 4 questions
  • properties and behavior of matter- 11 questions
  • work and heat- 5.5 questions
  • mass conservation- 3.5 questions
  • First Law (conservation of energy)- 4.5 questions
  • Second Law- 1.5 questions
The distribution of subject matter over the questions clearly does not reflect time spent in the class itself. Instead, the question distribution largely reflects what is expected of students upon enrollment in the thermodynamics course.

References for Further Information

  1. Hestenes, D., Wells, M., and Swackhamer, G. (1992). Force Concept Inventory. The Physics Teacher, 30 (3), 141-151
  2. Hestenes, D., and Hallounm I. (1995). Interpreting the Force Concept Inventory. The Physics Teacher, 33 (8)
  3. Hallounm I., and Hestenes, D. (1985). The initial knowledge state of college physics students. American Journal of Physics, 53(11), 1043-1055
  4. Hallounm I., and Hestenes, D. (1985). Common sense concepts about motion. American Journal of Physics, 53(11), 1056-1065
  5. Evans, D.L., and Hestenes, D. (2001), "The Concept of the Concept Inventory Assessment Instrument," Proceedings, Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, NV, USA
  6. Midkiff, K.C., Litzinger, T.A., and Evans, D.L. (2001). "Development of Engineering Thermodynamics Concept Inventory Instruments", Proceedings, 2001 Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, NV, USA