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Using or Viewing a Demonstration of Inquiry-Based Computer Simulations: The Effectiveness of Both in Learning Difficult Concepts in Heat Transfer

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Computer-Based Learning in Chemical Engineering Courses

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Katharyn E. K. Nottis Bucknell University

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Dr. Nottis is an Educational Psychologist and Professor Emeritus of Education at Bucknell University. Her research has focused on meaningful learning in science and engineering education, approached from the perspective of Human Constructivism. She has authored several publications and given numerous presentations on the generation of analogies, misconceptions, and facilitating learning in science and engineering education. She has been involved in collaborative research projects focused on conceptual learning in chemistry, chemical engineering, seismology, and astronomy.

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Michael J. Prince Bucknell University

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Dr. Michael Prince is a professor of chemical engineering at Bucknell University and co-director of the National Effective Teaching Institute. His research examines a range of engineering education topics, including how to assess and repair student misconceptions and how to increase the adoption of research-based instructional strategies by college instructors and corporate trainers. He is actively engaged in presenting workshops on instructional design to both academic and corporate instructors.

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Margot A. Vigeant Bucknell University

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Margot Vigeant is a professor of chemical engineering at Bucknell University. She earned her B.S. in chemical engineering from Cornell University, and her M.S. and Ph.D., also in chemical engineering, from the University of Virginia. Her primary research focus is on engineering pedagogy at the undergraduate level. She is particularly interested in the teaching and learning of concepts related to thermodynamics. She is also interested in active, collaborative, and problem-based learning, and in the ways hands-on activities such as making, technology, and games can be used to improve student engagement.

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Amy Frances Golightly Bucknell University Orcid 16x16

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I am currently working with a team of engineering faculty at Bucknell on phase two of a KEEN grant that examines curiosity and connection in undergraduate engineering students. In this phase of the project, we are working to define and refine assessment of learning in IDEAS design electives in EML. I have extensive training in psychometrics and its applications in social science and educational research. As demonstrated by my publications, I also have an interest in assessing learning and improving learning outcomes.

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Major chemical engineering concepts such as rate versus the amount of heat transferred and thermal radiation, can be difficult for undergraduates to understand. This can be due to prior knowledge built on what have been characterized as misconceptions (Streveler, Olds, Miller, & Nelson, 2003). Misconceptions about circumstances affecting the rate and amount of heat transferred have been observed in engineering students (Nottis, Prince, & Vigeant, 2010; 2017). Misconceptions about thermal radiation have also been documented (Jacobi, Martin, Mitchell, & Newell, 2003; Nottis et al., 2010, 2017).

Previous research has found that one way to facilitate conceptual understanding and alter misconceptions is with inquiry-based activities. However, there can be differing outcomes based on their method of implementation. For example, prior research has found that inquiry-based physical experiments can increase students’ understanding of difficult engineering concepts (Nottis, Vigeant, Prince, Golightly, & Gadoury, 2018; Vigeant, Prince, Nottis, Koretsky, & Ekstedt, 2016). Other research has shown that computer simulations may be able to more clearly demonstrate a concept than an experiment (De Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998) because they emphasize important data and delete confusing information (Trundle & Bell, 2010). However, does the effectiveness of computer simulations vary by instructional method? Do faculty demonstrations or students independently using simulations work better to increase conceptual understanding? Does the efficacy of each method vary by the concept and its difficulty level?

This quasi-experimental study compared two implementation methods for inquiry-based activities to address misconceptions about thermal radiation and rate versus amount of heat transferred. Intact groups of engineering undergraduates from two different universities across multiple semesters participated to determine whether their understanding of each concept would alter and differ after instruction based on instructional method. One group of participants used computer simulations (designated the student simulation group) while the other group watched as their instructor demonstrated the computer simulations (labeled the faculty demonstration group). The majority of participants were White males, sophomores and juniors, with GPAs at or higher than 3.0. Changes in conceptual understanding were assessed using the Heat and Energy Concept Inventory (HECI; Prince, Vigeant, & Nottis, 2010; 2012) and two of its sub-tests: Rate versus Amount and Radiation.

A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with instructional method and the radiation post-test as the dependent variable revealed a significant difference with a moderate/medium effect size; F (1, 190) = 14.37, p < .01, partial η2 = .07. Those taught by Faculty Demonstration of the Simulation scored significantly higher than students who did the Simulation themselves. For rate versus amount of heat transferred, there were no significant differences between the groups. The differences found for concepts with simulation pedagogies raise questions about whether certain concepts require more scaffolding than others. Needed scaffolding may have occurred with instructor demonstration of the computer simulation for thermal radiation. Heat and temperature concepts are important to understand and require the best teaching methodologies.

References De Jong, T., & Van Joolingen. (1998). Scientific discovery learning with computer simulations of conceptual domains. Review of Educational Research, 68(2), 179-201. Jacobi, A., Martin, J., Mitchell, J., & Newell, T. (2003). A concept inventory for heat transfer, in Proceedings of the 33rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (Paper T3D-12), Boulder, CO. Nottis, K. E. K., Prince, M., & Vigeant, M. (2010). Building an understanding of heat transfer concepts in undergraduate chemical engineering courses, US-China Education Review, 7 (2), 1-8. Nottis, K. E. K., Prince, M. J., & Vigeant, M. A. (2017). Undergraduate engineering students’ understanding of heat, temperature, and energy: An examination by gender and major, US-China Education Review A, 7 (3), 125-143. Nottis, K. E. K., Vigeant, M. A., Prince, M. J., Golightly, A. F., & Gaduoury, C. (June, 2018). Computer simulations versus physical experiments: A gender comparison of implementation methods for inquiry-based heat transfer activities. Paper presented at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference & Exposition, Salt Lake City, UT. Prince, M. J., Vigeant, M. A., & Nottis, K. E. K. (2010). Assessing misconceptions of undergraduate engineering students in the thermal sciences, International Journal of Engineering Education, 26(4), 880-890. Prince, M., Vigeant, M., & Nottis, K. (2012). Development of the Heat and Energy Concept Inventory: Preliminary results on the prevalence and persistence of engineering students’ misconceptions, Journal of Engineering Education, 101(3), 412-438. Self, B. P., Miller, R. L., Kean, A., Moore, T. J., Ogletree, T., & Schreiber, F. (2008, October). Important student misconceptions in mechanics and thermal science: Identification using model-eliciting activities. Paper presented at the ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Saratoga Springs, NY. Streveler, R. A., Olds, B. M., Miller, R., & Nelson, M. A. (2003). Using a Delphi study to identify the most difficult concepts for students to master in thermal and transport science. American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Nashville, TN. Trundle, K. C., & Bell, R. L. (2010). The use of a computer simulation to promote conceptual change: A quasi-experimental study. Computers & Education, 54(4), 1078-1088. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.10.012 Vigeant, M., Prince, M., Nottis, K., Koretsky, M., & Ekstedt, T. (2016, June). Hands-on, screens-on, and brains-on activities for important concepts in heat transfer, in Proceedings from American Association for Engineering Education Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA.

Nottis, K. E. K., & Prince, M. J., & Vigeant, M. A., & Golightly, A. F. (2019, June), Using or Viewing a Demonstration of Inquiry-Based Computer Simulations: The Effectiveness of Both in Learning Difficult Concepts in Heat Transfer Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33512

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