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MechGames: Teaching and Learning Dynamics through Computer Simulations and Games

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2020 ASEE North Central Section conference


Morgantown, West Virginia

Publication Date

March 27, 2020

Start Date

March 27, 2020

End Date

May 20, 2020

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Paper Authors


Yabin Liao Penn State Erie Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Yabin Liao received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 2005, and M.S.E. in Electrical Engineering in 2004, both from Arizona State University. Before that he received his B.E. in Automotive Engineering in 1999 from Tsinghua University. He was a lecturer/sr. lecturer in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Arizona State University from 2006-2017 before he joined Penn State Erie in 2017. Dr. Liao's teaching interests include Engineering Mechanics, Mechanics of Materials, System Dynamics and Controls, Vibrations, and Instrumentation and Measurements. He has been a long-time reviewer and contributor of Pearson's MasteringEngineering online program for Engineering Mechanics and Mechanics of Materials.

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Sheng Liu

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Sheng Liu received his M.S. in Computer Science in 2006 from Arizona State University. Before that he received his B.E. in Computer Science in 2002 from Shenzhen University. He is a Senior Software Engineer in Microsoft.

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Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education has become a top priority due to growing concerns regarding a shortage in the U.S. STEM workforce. Many initiatives have been taken to encourage and engage in teaching innovation to better prepare a diverse and globally competitively STEM workforce. There are numerous innovative educational tools and methods developed and studied to build and sustain interests in the STEM fields. Engineering Mechanics is the foundation of many upper-level engineering courses. Dynamics, in particular, is a challenging subject for many students, partly due to the difficulty of visualizing some of the important concepts. With the explosion of digital technologies in recent years, computer simulation and animation have drawn great interest as a tool to teach and learn this subject. Computer simulations present concepts in a dynamic environment and allow interactivity. It helps students observe and interact with computer representations of physical phenomena, and develop deeper understanding of critical concepts. On the other hand, computer games are essentially based on computer simulations but usually they are informal with explicit goals and rules, and are designed for entertainment. This paper introduces the so-called MechGames (Mechanics Games) project, which aims to blend simulations and games together to teach important concepts, and engage students with problem-solving activities that require critical thinking skills in a game-like environment, making learning more exciting and enjoyable for students. The vision is to create a series of modules on key concept of the Dynamics course. The modules will be self-contained with three modes: teaching/learning, assessment, and gaming. As an initial attempt, a pilot module has been developed on the subject of projectile motion. This module was deployed in this Fall semester and a survey was conducted to obtain student feedback. Overall, the student thought highly about the module. The module helped them learn the concepts by actually “seeing” the concepts. The game-like setting helped create a more exciting learning environment, challenge their minds in a meaningful way, and directly connect their efforts with accomplishments.

Liao, Y., & Liu, S. (2020, March), MechGames: Teaching and Learning Dynamics through Computer Simulations and Games Paper presented at 2020 ASEE North Central Section conference, Morgantown, West Virginia.

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