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A Novel Web-based Support Tool for Learning Random Variables

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Software and Web-based Learning in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.84.1 - 25.84.12

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Paper Authors

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Anahita Zarei University of the Pacific

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Jinzhu Gao University of the Pacific

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Jason Roy Ortiz

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Alan Joe

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Battle of Distributions: A Web Based Learning Support ToolIn probability and statistics, a random variable is a function that assigns a number to eachoutcome of a random experiment. Random variables have various applications in differentscientific and engineering fields. There is an inherent complexity in dealing with randomvariables and their distribution models. It takes a lot of careful thought and practice to fullyunderstand these concepts and their applications. We have identified two issues that contributethe most to the difficulty students experience learning the subject: 1) the complexity of themathematical logic behind the probability theory and 2) lack of motivation to attempt andexplore more problems due partly to the static nature of textbook problems. Therefore, ourobjectives were to enhance students' understanding of random variables and to increasemotivation for learning by developing an interactive web-based tool.In creating our module, we have focused on 3 related random variables that rise in engineeringapplications frequently, namely, Poisson, Exponential and Erlang. The web module consists of 3main components: Gym, Shop, and Rink. Gym provides students with a framework to test theirknowledge on the mentioned random variables. They carry out the mathematical analysis hereand explore different problems to observe the link between the 3 random variables. Shop andRink provide entertaining elements where students have the opportunity to shop for items such asenergy drinks to empower them to face their opponent in Rink. The more problems they solvecorrectly in the Gym component, the more credit they will have to shop and increase their chanceof winning a fight. (Figures 1-3 on the next page depict some of the graphical user interfacewindows of the module). The Gym component addresses our first objective to increase studentsunderstanding of the concept of random variables. The Shop and Rink components address oursecond objective to increase students' motivation by incorporating gaming elements into themodule.We assessed the effectiveness of the module by measuring the change in cognitive and affectivebehavior of students. We utilized independent diagnostic measures, a homework assignmentand a quiz that exclusively cover the three mentioned random variables to assess the changes inthe cognitive behavior. We performed the Mann-Whitney U-test to analyze the data and compareperformance in control and treatment groups. Our findings show that the treatment groupstudents did better than the control group in both measures. The p-value indicates that thesuperior performance of the treatment group is statistically significant.We also developed a survey to evaluate the students' affective behavior by measuring theirmotivation for learning and their perceptions of effectiveness of the module. Majority of students(82%) enjoyed doing the web module problems more than the textbook problems. Students agree(91%) that they would explore the web module problems beyond what they are asked to and 86%feel that web module was more motivating than the textbook.Figure 1: Main WindowFigure 2: Gym WindowFigure 3: Rink Window

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