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A Framework for Integrating Computational Simulations into Engineering Lessons

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Teaching Problem Solving in a Multidisciplinary Context

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.43.1 - 26.43.9



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Paper Authors


Kerrie A Douglas Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Douglas is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Purdue School of Engineering Education. Her research is focused on methods of assessment and evaluation unique to engineering learning contexts.

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Tanya Faltens Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Tanya Faltens is the Educational Content Creation Manager for the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN) which created the open access cyber-platform. Her technical background is in Materials Science and Engineering (Ph.D. UCLA 2002), and she has several years’ experience in hands-on informal science education, including working at the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley. While at Cal Poly Pomona, she taught the first year engineering course, mentored student capstone research projects, and introduced nanoHUB simulation tools into the undergraduate curriculum in materials science and engineering and electrical engineering courses. Much of her work has focused on introducing STEM concepts to broad audiences and encouraging students, including women and others in traditionally under-represented groups, to consider graduate school. Four of her former research students are currently in, or have completed, Ph.D. programs and a few more are in the pipeline.

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux is a Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. She is a member of Purdue’s Teaching Academy. Since 1999, she has been a faculty member within the First-Year Engineering Program, teaching and guiding the design of one of the required first-year engineering courses that engages students in open-ended problem solving and design. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and assessment of modeling and design activities with authentic engineering contexts. She is currently a member of the educational team for the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN).

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Krishna Madhavan Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Krishna Madhavan is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He is Co-PI and Education Director of the NSF-funded Network for Computational Nanotechnology ( which serves over 330,000 global researchers and learners annually). Dr. Madhavan was the Chair of the IEEE/ACM Supercomputing Education Program 2006. In January 2008, he was awarded the US National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for work on learner-centric, adaptive cyber-tools and cyber-environments. He was one of 49 faculty members selected as the nation’s top engineering educators and researchers by the US National Academy of Engineering to the Frontiers in Engineering Education symposium. Dr. Madhavan leads a major NSF funded effort called Deep Insights Anytime, Anywhere (DIA2) that attempts to characterize the impact of NSF and other federal investments in the area of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education using interactive knowledge mining and visual analytics for non-experts in data mining. DIA2 is currently deployed inside the NSF and is already starting to affect federal funding policy. Dr. Madhavan also served as Visiting Research Scientist at Microsoft Research, Internet Services Research Group. His research has been published in Nature Nanotechnology, IEEE Transactions on Computer Graphics and Applications, IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, and several other top peer-reviewed venues. Dr. Madhavan currently serves as PI or Co-PI on federal and industry funded projects totaling over $20M.

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A Framework for Integrating Research Grade Simulation Tools into Engineering Lessons Simulations developed for research purposes are migrating into classroom use wherethere is great potential for meaningful integration. For example, nanoHUB ( an online mechanism for creating and sharing models and simulations among researchers, withmore than 350 simulation tools contributed by researchers around the world. Previous researchhas found research grade simulation tools created on have potential to enhancestudent understanding of difficult concepts, such as material behavior at the atomic level. While nanoHUB simulations are readily available for instructors to use in their courses,maximum student learning through the use of simulations can only realized through carefulalignment of student learning needs and the value added by inserting simulation use into acourse. Traditionally, curriculum activities are designed to meet course objectives. In otherwords, the curriculum is developed specific to the learning need. However, in the case ofresearch-grade simulations, developed tools are adopted for a purpose (learning) other than whatthey were originally designed for (research). The approach instructors take to integratesimulations will have a direct impact on what students learn from the simulation activity.Therefore, we extend practices in curriculum development to propose an integration method thatwill assist faculty in effectively incorporating research-grade simulations into their existingcourses. Our method includes the following steps: (1) identifying key learning goals, (2)developing specific learning objectives, (3) selecting simulation tool(s) based on learning goals,(4) mapping simulation activities to learning objectives, and (5) assessing student learning.Through the process, a clear alignment is made as to the value added by the simulation and whatstudents learn. In this paper, we will describe our method of integration through an example of how ananoHUB simulation tool supports learning of materials concepts in a sophomore materialsscience engineering course.

Douglas, K. A., & Faltens, T., & Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Madhavan, K. (2015, June), A Framework for Integrating Computational Simulations into Engineering Lessons Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23384

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