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Learning Engineering Dynamics with a Videogame: A Look at How Students Play the Game

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Teaching Dynamics

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.851.1 - 24.851.23



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Paper Authors


Brianno Coller Northern Illinois University

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Brianno Coller is Presidential Teaching Professor at Northern Illinois University. Early in his academic career, he studied complex dynamics and control of nonlinear systems such as turbulent boundary layers, turbomachine instabilities, aeroelastic instabilities, bicycle dynamics, and traffic. More recently he has been studying the complex nonlinear dynamics of students learning engineering in the context of a videogame.

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An Examination of How Students Learn Dynamics while Playing a Video GamePlaying video games engages the mind. Video games are puzzles, problem-solving exercises.Education scholars who have studied such games observe that when players begin a video game,they plunge into it. They have no need for a manual. The goals are clear and feedback as towhether they are achieving those goals is immediate, abundant and unambiguous. Players areable to achieve initial success fairly quickly, but challenges intensify progressively to keepplayers at the edge of their abilities. Therefore, time on task is neither mundanely repetitious noroverwhelmingly difficult.Furthermore, to help players progress, the most successful video games establish environmentsthat encourage active and critical learning and have incorporated, whether intentionally or byaccident, the need for superior learning strategies into the play. Players/learners can take risks ina space where real-world consequences are lowered. Necessary knowledge and skills arediscovered “from the bottom up” through a cyclic process of probing, reflecting, hypothesizing,and testing. Information is given to players/learners at just the time they will be able to makesense of it and to use it.It is not surprising that education scholars recognize video game design principles as being wellaligned with constructivist theories of learning. Seeing how the constructivist framework fits sonaturally within video games, researchers have urged educators and game designers to find waysto harness the engaging characteristics of video games for learning.For the past few years, my collaborators and I have been developing and testing a new videogame called Spumone for use primarily in sophomore-level (second year) engineering dynamicscourses. The goal has been to provide a more engaging alternative to the highly structured,narrowly-focused, homework problems one typically finds in textbooks. In doing so we hoped toimprove learning outcomes.By many measures, the game is a success. Students, in general, devote more time to theirSpumone assignments than their textbook-based assignments. They tend to enjoy the game-basedassignments more. On concept tests, students who learned with the game, on average, scoredhigher than students who learned the material without.In this paper, we examine how students learn engineering dynamics with the video game byobserving detailed log data generated by the game. Preserved in the log data are recordings ofevery decision that students made as they worked through game-based engineering challenges.One can see the equations that students wrote, corrections they made, how they responded toevents in the game. The log data have the potential of providing deep insight into students’problem solving processes.By examining the log files, we aim to categorize different types of learners by the approachesthey take, by the way they use the game to check their understanding, and by the way in whichthey use the simulation built into the game to explore physical principles. The paper looks forcorrelations between strategies students pursue in the game to performance in the game,performance on dynamics coursework, and performance on concept tests. 

Coller, B. (2014, June), Learning Engineering Dynamics with a Videogame: A Look at How Students Play the Game Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20742

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