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Student Usage of Digital Design Interactive Learning Tools in an Online Textbook

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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

Technical Session 4: Modulus Topics 1

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Yamuna Rajasekhar zyBooks

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Yamuna Rajasekhar received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the UNC Charlotte. She served as a faculty member at Miami University where her research was focused on assistive technology, embedded systems, and engineering education. She is currently a Content Developer at zyBooks, a startup that develops highly-interactive, web-native textbooks for a variety of STEM disciplines.

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Alex Daniel Edgcomb Zybooks

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Alex Edgcomb is Sr. Software Engineer at, a startup spun-off from UC Riverside that develops interactive, web-native learning materials for STEM courses. Alex is also a research specialist at UC Riverside, studying the efficacy of web-native content and digital education.

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Frank Vahid University of California, Riverside

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Frank Vahid is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the Univ. of California, Riverside. His research interests include embedded systems design, and engineering education. He is a co-founder of

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Digital design is a foundational course in computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering that describes the basic logical processes from which digital systems are designed. While digital design courses have typically relied on physical textbooks for learning, many classes have begun using a zyBook, which is a web-native, online textbook that includes interactive learning tools. Learning tools are topic-specific, open-ended activities embedded within a topic section, such as a K-map simplification tool or a finite-state-machine simulator. Students have unlimited time to interact with the learning tool. Such interactions are automatically recorded and instructors can see completion rates of each activity by each student. Some learning tools auto-grade, whereas others are followed by formative assessment questions (e.g., short answer and multiple choice). This paper describes auto-graded learning tools, called challenge activities, from various topics in the Digital Design zyBook. Instructors often assign challenge activities as homework. Each challenge activity has around 2-7 levels that become incrementally harder at each level, where the first level is deliberately simpler and the last level is harder, typically the difficulty of a written homework problem. Each level randomly generates questions from a large set of equally-difficult questions. When a student correctly answers the question, the student can proceed to the next level. This paper describes student usage of 4 challenge activities, across 3,099 to 4,518 students (varies by activity) at 43 universities, to provide insight into how such activities impact the student learning experience in digital design courses. Key insight: Students tend to make small mistakes on early levels, then quickly solve the harder levels, enabling most students to complete a challenge activity within 10 minutes.

Rajasekhar, Y., & Edgcomb, A. D., & Vahid, F. (2019, June), Student Usage of Digital Design Interactive Learning Tools in an Online Textbook Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33303

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