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Interactive Simulations Coupled with Real-time Formative Assessment to Enhance Student Learning

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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

New Classrooms, New Challenges II: Assessing Non-traditional Approaches

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.826.1 - 25.826.7



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Paper Authors


Tracy Q. Gardner Colorado School of Mines

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Tracy Q. Gardner graduated from the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) with B.S. degrees in chemical engineering and petroleum refining (CEPR) and in mathematical and computer sciences (MCS) in 1996 and with an M.S. degree in CEPR in 1998. She then got my Ph.D. in chemical engineering, studying transport in zeolite membranes, from CU, Boulder, in 2002. She did a postdoc at TUDelft in the Netherlands in 2002 and 2003, studying oxygen conducting mixed oxide membranes and teaching reactor engineering, and she has been teaching back at CSM since 2004. I am now a Teaching Associate Professor and the Assistant Department Head of the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at CSM. My primary research focus is in pedagogy, specifically in utilizing tablets and other technology and different teaching methods to increase student engagement and reduce/eliminate lecturing in the classroom. She likes to play with her kids, play racquetball, run, bike, swim, and play pool in her free time.

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Susan E. Kowalski Colorado School of Mines

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Frank V. Kowalski Colorado School of Mines

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  Interactive Simulations Coupled with Real-Time Formative Assessment to Enhance Student Learning  Abstract:Students’ understanding of key concepts in two core Chemical Engineering courses hasbeen assessed after implementing an innovative pedagogical method of couplinginteractive simulations with real-time formative assessment. With this method, studentsfirst independently explore available computer simulations (sims) that demonstrateimportant concepts and calculations. After this “free play” (i.e. without any instructorguidance) with the sims, students are quizzed on their fundamental understanding of thedemonstrated concepts, knowledge of assumptions made in the modeling, etc. Then thestudents play with the sims again in a guided manner, with scaffolded questions devisedby the instructor to help them better explore and analyze the sims. This scaffoldedquestioning takes place in class, dynamically directed based on immediate studentfeedback, with the use of pen-based mobile technology and InkSurvey – free, web-basedsoftware designed for real-time formative assessment. The instructor poses questions thataddress points students missed in their initial exploration of the sim. The “digital ink”answers to these questions can come in the form of equations, graphs, words, numbers,etc., as InkSurvey accepts free-form input. Based on the answers the students give, otherquestions leading the students to the most interesting points are posed. Questions probingincreasing depths of understanding are given as students work at their own pace, therebychallenging students at all levels simultaneously. Students play with the sims again whileanswering these guided questions (“guided play”). After the guided play, summativeassessment of student understanding allows learning gains before and after guided play tobe compared.This interactive mode encourages all students not only to participate in answering thequestions, but also in asking the instructor questions, as they can do so via InkSurveywithout identifying themselves. Additionally, during these exercises, students spend asignificant amount of time discussing with each other, which has proven to increasestudent learning and understanding of concepts. Tablet PC’s were used in this study, butthe pedagogical method and software infrastructure are sufficiently versatile that thismodel can be broadly used with other hardware such as slates, iPads, and even smartphones. Students participating in these activities were fully engaged and on taskthroughout the duration of class time. These guided sims explorations have been used 1)to elucidate and correct common misconceptions and, 2) to hone critical thinking skills incases where processes are being modeled using equations that do not apply.Results are presented of applying this pedagogical method in Fluid Mechanics andProcess Dynamics and Controls – two courses which students have historically foundchallenging because of difficulties in visualizing the connections between the calculationsand the physical processes. Examples of concepts explored in this manner and studentlearning gains (with statistical analysis) before and after the guided play are given.Actual student responses to questions such as “how do airplanes actually fly” and “dofirefighters have to push forward or pull back on fire hoses to keep them in place”, alongwith the common misconceptions of these concepts, are presented. Finally, otheradvantages of this pedagogical method are discussed.We would like to present this in a regular session.

Gardner, T. Q., & Kowalski, S. E., & Kowalski, F. V. (2012, June), Interactive Simulations Coupled with Real-time Formative Assessment to Enhance Student Learning Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21583

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