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Game Design and Learning Objectives for Undergraduate Engineering Thermodynamics

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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

Thermodynamics, Fluids and Heat Transfer II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.810.1 - 26.810.14



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Paper Authors


John M. Pfotenhauer University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Professor John M. Pfotenhauer earned his BA, MA, and PhD degrees in physics from St. Olaf College and the University of Oregon in 1979, 1981, and 1984. For eight years he conducted research as part of the Applied Superconductivity Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison before joining the faculty there in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, and Engineering Physics in 1993. In addition to his research in cryogenics, and in educational games, he teaches courses in thermodynamics, heat transfer, energy systems laboratory, cryogenics, and vacuum technology.

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David J. Gagnon University of Wisconsin, Madison

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David J. Gagnon (University of Wisconsin, Madison) is a Discovery Fellow and program director of the Mobile Learning Lab in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at University of Wisconsin, Madison. He directs a team of educational researchers, software engineers, artists and storytellers that explore the intersections of learning science and media design, specializing in mobile media, video games and simulation. David is also the Director of the ARIS project, a free and open tool that allows anyone to produce mobile games, stories and tours. He is also active member of the Games, Learning and Society Research community.

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Michael Litzkow University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Mike Litzkow has been a professional software developer on a wide
variety of research projects at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
since 1983. He has worked on projects ranging from grid computing
systems, to parallel architecture simulators, to delivery of course
lectures and instructional content over the world wide web. Presently
he manages an open-source learning management system for his campus.
He participates in the development of games to teach complex technical
subjects as time allows.

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Christine Maidl Pribbenow Wisconsin Center for Education Research

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Dr. Christine M. Pribbenow is the Director of the LEAD Center at UW-Madison. The LEAD Center advances the quality of teaching and learning by evaluating the effectiveness and impact of educational innovations, policies, and practices within higher education. Dr. Pribbenow has degrees in Psychology and Sociology from Carroll University (BS, 1989), Counseling and Student Development in Higher Education from Northern Illinois University (MSEd, 1992), and Higher Education Leadership and Policy Analysis from UW-Madison (PhD, 2000). For the past fifteen years, she has conducted program evaluation for a number of federally funded programs that are designed to improve undergraduate learning, and to increase the representation of women, racial/ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities in STEM.

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Game  Design  and  Learning  Objectives  for  Undergraduate  Engineering  Thermodynamics  As  a  gateway  course  for  undergraduate  mechanical  engineering  students,  thermodynamics  presents  a  significant  challenge  for  many  students.    An  on-­‐line  and  device-­‐accessible  game  being  developed  intends  to  increase  the  success  rate  of  students  in  their  introductory  thermodynamics  course  by  enabling  them  to  visually  interact  with  the  thermodynamic  properties  of  water  on  the  3D  (P-­‐V-­‐T)  surface  defined  by  the  equation  of  state.    At  the  introductory  level,  the  game  explores  property  relationships  in  the  subcooled-­‐liquid,  superheated  vapor,  and  two-­‐phase  regions.    At  the  intermediate  and  higher  levels  it  challenges  players  to  solve  thermodynamics-­‐related  professional  practice  tasks.      We  report  here  the  results  of  the  first  two  years  of  the  game  development,  feedback  gathered  in  beta-­‐testing  sessions,  its  in-­‐class  application,  the  associated  evaluation  procedures  (Concept  Inventory  Measurement,  student  interviews,  and  game-­‐generated  data),  and  the  subsequent  re-­‐direction  of  the  game’s  approach.          As  developed  in  its  initial  version,  the  game  incorporated  the  first  law  energy  balance  relating  work,  heat,  and  internal  energy.    The  game’s  primary  mechanism,  although  a  captivating  challenge  for  its  game  mechanics,  was  not  configured  to  address  many  of  the  key  pedagogical  goals  associated  with  the  introduction  of  thermodynamic  properties,  their  inter-­‐dependency,  and  the  unique  features  of  the  properties  in  the  subcooled,  two-­‐phase,  and  superheated  regions.    A  relatively  cool  reaction  to  the  game  by  the  students  was  reflected  in  all  three  evaluation  methods  and  resulted  in  a  significant  re-­‐direction  of  the  game’s  features.  Along  with  a  list  of  10  specific  pedagogical  goals,  the  game’s  re-­‐direction  includes  a  set  of  professional  practice  scenarios,  and  a  completely  new  set  of  game  mechanisms.    Additional  game  features,  including  a  novel  in-­‐game  assessment  tool  that  is  based  on  a  combination  of  Baysian  Knowledge  Tracking  and  Performance  Factor  Analyses  approaches,  are  described  and  compared  with  similar  learning  pattern  assessment  tools.  

Pfotenhauer, J. M., & Gagnon, D. J., & Litzkow, M., & Pribbenow, C. M. (2015, June), Game Design and Learning Objectives for Undergraduate Engineering Thermodynamics Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24147

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