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Pop-Culture Learning Technique Applied to Thermodynamics

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids and Heat Transfer I

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Laura A. Garrison York College of Pennsylvania

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Dr. Laura Garrison received her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Texas and her M.S. in Operations Research from Stanford University. She then worked for AT&T Bell Laboratories and AT&T Federal Systems before deciding to pursue her Ph.D. in Bioengineering at Penn State University in the area of experimental fluid mechanics associated with the artificial heart. After graduating, she worked at Voith Hydro for five years in the area of Computational Fluid Mechanics. For the last fifteen years, she has been a professor at York College of Pennsylvania where she teaches thermal sciences, freshmen design courses, and computer programming.

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A recent TEDx talk by Josh Kaufman claims that almost anything can be learned in 20 hours. One of the key recommendations is to break the skill into its most basic elements and master these small skills before moving on. Mr. Kaufman claims that this technique can be applied to any topic, from playing the ukulele to learning computer programming. By studying people who perform at the top of their field, other researchers have also come to the conclusion that this technique works well.

Many students struggle with thermodynamics, in part because the individual problems tend to be very comprehensive, requiring many skills. To apply Kaufman’s philosophy to thermodynamics, the author developed a large number of on-line Moodle “quizlets” that provide students with repetitive practice of the most basic skills in the course. For example, there is an entire quizlet based on finding the phase of a substance using tables. If the students don’t get a “mastery level” score, they take a subsequent quiz on phases before moving on. Surveys and grades suggest that there were substantial improvements in student learning using these quizlets. Because of this success, the author is currently developing new software that could potentially be used by any instructor to incorporate these small skills into their thermodynamics course. The software will incorporate the quizlet questions as well as techniques used by video game developers.

The paper presents more details on the quizlet questions and assessment. It also describes the current state of the new software and how it is being incorporated into a thermodynamics course.

Garrison, L. A. (2017, June), Pop-Culture Learning Technique Applied to Thermodynamics Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28747

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