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Play-in-learning: Studying the Impact of Emotion and Cognition in Undergraduate Engineering Learning

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 13: Student Learning and Contexts

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Alexander Pagano University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Alex Pagano is a PhD student studying a variety of research questions related to engineering technology and education. He received his B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Arizona in 2015 and his M.S. in Mechanical Science and Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018.

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Leon Liebenberg MASEE University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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For the past 25 years, Leon Liebenberg has been engaged in engineering teaching, research, and community engagement. He was a professor of mechanical engineering at two South African universities (University of Pretoria; North West University), before becoming a higher education consultant in Switzerland where he worked with colleges of engineering and technology management. He is currently a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Leon is passionate about multidisciplinary research, particularly in the fields of energy engineering, biomedical engineering, and engineering education. His university research has focused on development of industrial energy-efficient technologies and cancer therapies using energy restriction methods. His published research works enjoy an h-index of 25.
Leon’ first love is however for teaching. He co-developed and taught a unique freshman course on “Innovation”, where students work in so-called “whole-brain” thinking teams when addressing technological problems. These helped show that innovation for a sustainable world can be maximised by the convergence of natural sciences, engineering sciences, and the arts.
At the UIUC, Leon is currently investigating pedagogies of engagement for use in the engineering curriculum. He focuses on self-directed learning and play-in-learning. Leon is collaborating with colleagues from various disciplines in this venture.
He also founded the TechnoLab technology awareness facility for junior engineering students and for school children, where the learners work in small teams to solve problems using Lego Dacta and other didactic equipment. The TechnoLab model has been adopted by several South African schools since its inception in 1997. Leon also founded the Space and Aviation Challenge for school learners in South Africa, which aimed at demystifying the aeronautical engineering profession. The Challenge was annually presented for several years in collaboration with Nasa’s Dryden Lab who offered the first prize for a learner to attend Space Camp USA.
Leon teaches a variety of subjects, including: Innovation; Statics; Dynamics; Thermodynamics; Fluid Dynamics; Design for Manufacturability; Machine Design; Senior Design; Heat Transfer; Aerodynamics; Aeronautics; and Advanced Heat and Mass Transfer.
Leon holds doctoral and master’s degrees from Imperial College London and from the University of Johannesburg. Leon and his wife enjoy meeting people, engaging with local communities, reading, photography, hiking, cycling, and spending time with their cat.

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Molly H. Goldstein University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Molly H. Goldstein is Senior Lecturer in the Industrial and Systems Engineering & Design at the University of Illinois. She earned her B.S. in General Engineering (Systems Engineering & Design) and M.S. in Systems and Entrepreneurial Engineering from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. Her research interests include design education research at K-16 levels.

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INTRODUCTION: Engineering fundamentals, such as Thermodynamics, often involve lots of math and abstract theory. As a result students perceive them as tedious and difficult to learn. Without labs or other practical, experience-driven activities, students may not have the opportunity to relate to the content which can negatively impact engagement and learning outcomes. OBJECTIVES: Many researchers have documented the interaction between emotion and cognition in learning dimensions such as memory, attention, reasoning, and problem solving. We aim to develop and assess teaching methods which consider both the cognitive and emotional aspects of learning. These methods and activities are intended to afford students the opportunity to explore, learn and reconsider, in a playful sense, without repercussion, in order to give students an exciting way to learn an abstract topic and to improve learning outcomes by increasing engagement. This study also aims to assess student experience in salient terms which can help us understand how play and emotion interact with learning in engineering education. APPROACH: Students in a sophomore-level Thermodynamics class are taught using play-in-learning methods including interactive lectures with an emphasis on active-learning, team projects which involve learning from and interacting with professional engineers and sharing findings with the larger community, as well as gamified, electronic class-quizzes which give students immediate learning feedback and reward comprehension and active participation. In this study, participants from the 130 student class respond to a questionnaire before and during select play-in-learning activities to assess their experience and emotional valance using emoji-based scales. Participants are also asked to document meaningful or impactful learning experiences which may be correlated with teaching methodologies and explored in individual or small group interviews. These descriptive and emotional metrics will be compared to quantitative learning outcomes. Assessment of learning outcomes in the short-term will be done using a post-test immediately following the activity and again several weeks after to investigate retention. Where possible these results will be compared to similar metrics of students in a separate section of the course not using these play-in-learning methods to provide a control. RESULTS: Findings from this in-progress study will suggest how students respond to play-in-learning activities. This emotional response may impact learning outcomes. Of course, the findings of this study may be affected by the response to novelty in course structure or personal variation in response to the format. Nonetheless, this work proposes a framework for promoting engagement in engineering education at the undergraduate level which is based in a fundamental aspect of human enjoyment, play. We hope to report what works in an attempt to inspire others to try these methods as well. IMPLICATIONS: As a natural consequence of interest and attention, it is far easier to study things which we find interesting. The findings of this study may provide some practical insight into how to use this principle to improve the learning experience for any subject.

Pagano, A., & Liebenberg, L., & Goldstein, M. H. (2019, June), Play-in-learning: Studying the Impact of Emotion and Cognition in Undergraduate Engineering Learning Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33173

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