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Engaging Students in STEM Education through a Virtual Learning Lab

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.573.1 - 22.573.11



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Paper Authors


Stephanie Elizabeth August Loyola Marymount University

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Stephanie August is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. She teaches courses in artificial intelligence, database management systems, and software engineering. Her research interests include cognitive science applications of artificial intelligence including interdisciplinary new media applications, natural language understanding, argumentation, and analogical reasoning. She has several publications in these areas. Dr. August is actively involved in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning community and is a 2006 CASTL Institute Scholar (Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning). She has published a case study to use in teaching computer science courses to increase the interpersonal orientation of the classroom experience. She is currently directing graduate and undergraduate students on NSF-funded projects to develop a Virtual Engineering Sciences Learning Lab in Second Life to provide an immersive learning environment for introductory engineering and computer science courses and to develop materials for teaching artificial intelligence through an experimental approach modeled after the lab sciences. Her industry experience includes software and system engineering for several defense C3I programs, and applied artificial intelligence research for military and medical applications.

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Allison Neyer Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

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VESLL (Virtual Engineering Sciences Learning Lab) is an online virtual learning environment and interactive museum that uses games and activities to explain basic math and science concepts. I’m Allison Neyer, a senior English major with a computer science minor. As a research assistant on the VESSL project, I created and programmed the crossword and jumble puzzle activities as one part of this overall project.

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Don Brian Murphy Loyola Marymount University

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Don Murphy is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He has contributed to the XMLPipeDB program suite, the social networking site Serengeti, and the Virtual Engineering Science Learning Lab (VESLL) project. He worked in the university’s computer science lab as a teacher’s assistant, and has experience with programming languages including Java and C++.

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Robert Quinlan Thames

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Engaging Students in STEM Education through a Virtual Learning LabRather than waiting for students to pursue STEM education, virtual worlds and games can beused to bring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to the students throughengaging and socially oriented activities. We are developing a virtual science museum andeducation center that provides practice with basic engineering concepts and transforms anentertainment-based platform into a delivery vehicle for electrical engineering and computerscience content. As part of an initiative to move engineering education into the 21st Century, theVirtual Engineering Sciences Learning Lab (VESLL) project represents an exploration of themany benefits of virtual learning environments, including enhanced opportunities forvisualization, immediate feedback, student autonomy, increased access to resources without thedemands of co-presence, multiple communication channels for student interaction with peers andinstructors, and innovative ways to evaluate student learning.To explore VESLL, a student creates an avatar in Second Life® and via the avatar visits VESLLas s/he might visit a brick-and-mortar science museum. S/he begins by entering an orientationcenter, then proceeds to the various work areas to learn about and experiment with fundamentalengineering concepts or visits virtual meeting areas within VESLL to discuss ideas or collaboratewith other students, faculty, and visitors.Each work area or “lab” includes a tutorial on a particular concept. We have implemented apositional numbering systems lab and a logic circuit lab. In the former, students use a set ofinteractive number panels like an odometer to increment and decrement numbers represented invarious bases, or to compare and convert numbers in different bases. Once students understandthe basic concepts, they test their knowledge on a hexadecimal crossword puzzle and a wordjumble activity (using the hex alphabetic symbols), or try their hand at opening a lock bycorrectly converting a number from one base to another. In the logic circuit lab, students learnabout basic logical operations and truth tables, and interact with logic gates, and circuits.Eventually students build their own circuits using gates and connectors. We are currentlydesigning a collaborative game in which teams of students use the skills they acquire in VESLLto solve complex puzzles. These puzzles will be set in a story line that adds a gaming flavor tomaximize entertainment value. Future plans include developing more complex objects andactivities that encourage socially aware community-based solving of social problems, such asproviding clean water to a rural community.Assessments are built directly into the virtual environment. They include pre- and post-knowledge tests, demographic survey, technological tools and activities inventory, and post-activity satisfaction survey.This approach offers students autonomy and immediate feedback, and is designed to attractdiverse audiences to engineering and computer science. Preliminary feedback from studentsenrolled in project workshops indicate that activities help students understand course content,make course material more interesting, and encourage interaction with other students.This paper describes the nature of this project, presents preliminary results, discusses theopportunities it presents for interdisciplinary collaboration, looks at how this approachesfacilitates interdisciplinary studies, and presents future plans. Engaging Students in STEM Education through a Virtual Learning Lab The VESLL Building The islandThe HexWindow for learning The Conversion Lock exercisepositional numbering systems The Crossword Puzzle. The Logic Circuit Lab with gates, circuit creation panel and predefined circuits

August, S. E., & Neyer, A., & Murphy, D. B., & Thames, R. Q. (2011, June), Engaging Students in STEM Education through a Virtual Learning Lab Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17854

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