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The Effects of Engineering Demonstration Design on Learning and Interest

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Fostering Student Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1453.1 - 22.1453.16



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Paper Authors


Gerald Sullivan Virginia Military Institute

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Gerald Sullivan, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute, received his B.S.M.E. from the University of Vermont in 1985, and his M.S.M.E. and Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1987 and 1991 respectively. He has held teaching positions at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and the University of Vermont. Prior to joining the faculty at the Virginia Military Institute in the fall of 2004, Dr. Sullivan was employed by JMAR Inc. where he was involved in research and development of next generation lithography systems for the semiconductor industry.

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James C. Squire Virginia Military Institute

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James Squire is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Virginia Military Institute. He received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY and served in the army as a Military Intelligence officer during Desert Storm. Although his Ph.D. is in electrical engineering, he completed his doctoral work in a biomedical engineering laboratory at MIT and has interests in analog and digital instrumentation, signal processing, biomechanics, patent litigation, and cardiology. At VMI, he teaches analog electronics, continuous time and discrete time signal processing, and advises a variety of independent study projects.

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George Mercer Brooke IV Virginia Military Institute,Department of Physics and Astronomy

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George Brooke is an Associate Professor of Physics at the Virginia Military Institute. He received his B.S. in Physics from the Virginia Military Institute and his Ph.D. in Physics from Old Dominion University in the field of chemical physics. Following graduate school he did post-doctoral work in the field of ultra-cold atomic physics at the Laser and Optics Research Center at the United States Air Force Academy. His current interests include molecular spectroscopy and the application of these techniques to trace gas detection.

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The Effects of Demonstration Construction Quality on LearningIt is widely recognized that demonstrations increase interest amongst students and result inimproved understanding of engineering concepts. Demonstrations may be as simple as a devicecobbled together from spare parts, or highly stylized purchased equipment. Anecdotally there ismuch evidence to suggest that engineering students prefer less stylized, “raw”, demonstrations.In this work, a systematic examination of the effect of demonstration finish quality on learningefficiency is described. In particular demonstrations with a high degree of finish, or “polished”demonstrations are compared with “raw” demonstration equipment for a population of studentsthat consists of both technical and non-technical students. Two case studies are considered; onein which a model monster truck is used to motivate lectures on spring/mass/damper systems, andthe other where a laser based communications system is used to explain electronics concepts.The monster truck study included 119 students, of which 62 were enrolled in technical majorssuch as engineering or physics, and 57 non-technical majors. The students were divided into twogroups where one of the groups received a lecture on spring/mass/damper systems using amonster truck model with a painted body shell, (shocks and springs still visible). The other groupreceived the same lecture; however, the model truck used for the demonstration had no bodyshell making all of the parts of the frame and power train visible. Following the lecture, studentseach took a 5 minute long quiz that measured the students’ objective understanding of thematerial, their self-assessed subjective understanding of the material, and their self assessedenjoyment of the material. Two tailed T-tests were then applied to the data to test the hypothesisthat use of the “raw” or “polished” demonstrations resulted in a significant difference instudents’ learning of the material on spring/mass/damper systems. It was shown that for thepooled data from technical and non-technical majors, that the raw demonstration resulted inhigher objective understanding, (p<.01), than forthe polished demonstration. No difference in self-assessed subjective comprehension betweenthe raw and polished demonstration groups was observed. The study also showed that bothtechnical and non-technical students preferred the raw demonstration to the polisheddemonstration.The second case study involves the use of a laser based communication system implemented ona bread-board, (“raw”), in comparison to a system that integrates the electronics into a sculptedenclosure created using a rapid prototyping machine, (“polished”). Work on this case study iscurrently in progress, with students receiving a lecture on the electronics required to demodulatea voice signal from a laser beam carrier. One group of students uses the raw demo while theother group sees the more polished demo. Students are then tested with respect to objectivelearning, subjective learning and enjoyment. T-tests will be used to see if, as in the case of themonster truck demo, raw demonstrations have a statistically significant positive impact onlearning.

Sullivan, G., & Squire, J. C., & Brooke, G. M. (2011, June), The Effects of Engineering Demonstration Design on Learning and Interest Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18494

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