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Board 52: The Fidget Car—Outcomes from Small Group Learning Activities in Systems and Controls Courses

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


David M. Feinauer P.E. Norwich University

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Dr. Feinauer is an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Freshman Engineering Coordinator at Norwich University. His scholarly work spans a number of areas related to engineering education, including P-12 engineering outreach, the first-year engineering experience, and incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship principles in the engineering classroom. Additionally, he has research experience in the areas of automation and control theory, and system identification. His work has been published through the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE); he is an active member of both organizations. He serves as advisor to the student entrepreneurship club and as the State Partner for the FIRST LEGO League Program—a nationally recognized program that incorporates robotics with innovation and community engagement. He holds a PhD and BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Kentucky.

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Laura R. Ray Dartmouth College

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Dr. Ray is the interim dean and professor of engineering sciences at the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College. She received her B.E. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton Univ. and her M.S. degree from Stanford University. She is a co-founder of two companies. Her research and teaching interests include control theory, mechatronics, and robotics.

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The Fidget Car—a low-cost platform for observation, measurement, and application of core systems and controls principles—was developed to address time and resource requirements for small group learning exercises in undergraduate systems and controls courses with the support of the NSF DUE IUSE: Engaged Student Learning – Exploration and Design program. Workshop participants co-developed eight exercises to create and enhance small-group learning opportunities in said courses in the summer of 2017.

To date, 98 fidget car platforms have been distributed to 19 faculty and staff members reaching students at 12 universities. Results from the dissemination and implementation of the funded activities are explored through the lens of impacts on student attitudes towards learning, and connections students made among the activities and key systems and controls concepts. Preliminary results from student surveys and instructor assessments show a high-level of student engagement with the activities and frequent reports of “a-ha moments” or connections resulting from the experiences. Implementation reports show 70 – 85% of students referencing improved connections to key learning concepts in post activity reflections with lower numbers questioning non-ideal system behaviors in the same reflections.

Faculty reports have shown adoption of fidget car exercises for a wide variety of purposes: to motivate the need for control action, to help students “see” complex mathematical concepts, to help students connect mathematical models to physical behavior, to create a shared experience for in-class discussion, and to apply disciplinary methods to real systems based on real-world data. In addition to the different purposes augmented by the activities, adopters report using the activities in a variety of constructs: short in-class demos, outside of class design or analysis projects, one- to multi-class measurement laboratory exercises, or partial class activities inspiring group discussion. A mapping of the exercises to fundamental systems and controls learning concepts and to classroom learning modalities is provided.

Feinauer, D. M., & Ray, L. R. (2019, June), Board 52: The Fidget Car—Outcomes from Small Group Learning Activities in Systems and Controls Courses Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32370

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