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An Initial Analysis Of Student Engagement While Learning Engineering Via Video Game

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Classroom Engagement

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.157.1 - 15.157.14



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Paper Authors


Brianno Coller Northern Illinois University

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Brianno Coller is an Associate Professor of Mechanical engineering. He started his research career applying fairly deep mathematical ideas to gain insight into how complex physical and engineering systems work. His work was theoretical and somewhat abstract. Since then, his research has evolved toward studying a different type of complex system: how students learn and become excited about engineering. In this endeavor, Dr. Coller is mostly a "nuts & bolts" practitioner, an engineer, and an experimentalist.

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David Shernoff Northern Illinois University

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David Shernoff is an Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology, and Foundations at Northern Illinois University, where he teaches courses in adolescent development, motivation, and educational psychology. He received his Ph.D. in education at the University of Chicago, and served a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His areas of research specialization are student engagement, positive youth development, and mentoring.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

An Initial Analysis of Student Engagement when Learning Engineering via Video Game


The paper presents data from a multi-year study during which a video game is introduced into a dynamic systems and control course for mechanical engineering undergraduates. The video game, EduTorcs, provides challenges in which students devise control algorithms that drive virtual cars and virtual bikes through a simulated game environment. Elsewhere, the authors presented results showing that students taking the game-based course exhibit a better conceptual understanding of course content. Data on student engagement presented in this paper offer a possible explanation of why. On most measures, students taking the game based course have a more positive experience than students who took the more traditional version of the course from the same instructor before the game was introduced. Data were collected through a technique called the Experience Sampling Method and analyzed through the lens of flow theory.


One of the most difficult courses in the undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum is Dynamic Systems & Control (DS&C). Students find the Laplace-domain mathematics unnatural and confusing1. Yet, the highly mathematical and abstract topics come in rapid-fire succession. As a consequence, students often resort to coping strategies in which they attempt to memorize formulas and mathematical recipes. The strategies are frequently sufficient for generating “right answers” to narrowly defined textbook problems. And they may be sufficient for earning a passing grade in the course. However, when large numbers of students flounder on open-ended problems that require deeper understanding of the material, it becomes clear that the educational process is not working.

Cognition research2,13,15 has addressed situations such as these in which students are faced with tasks that do not have apparent meaning or logic. For students to “learn with understanding,” they need to “take time to explore underlying concepts and to generate connections to other [knowledge] they possess.”2 For several years, our teaching strategy has focused on giving students first-hand experiences with electric motors and balancing devices in the laboratory. We had students generate mathematical models and computer simulations of the systems. They developed and implemented controllers for the systems. We required them to reflect and to exhibit other metacognitive traits.

Recently, we began replacing many of the physical laboratory experiments and textbook exercises with a new type of learning experience. Students experimented on, and developed controllers for virtual dynamic systems within a virtual game-like simulated environment. They were learning dynamic systems and control by playing a video game.

Coller, B., & Shernoff, D. (2010, June), An Initial Analysis Of Student Engagement While Learning Engineering Via Video Game Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15985

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