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Work in Progress: Flatlab - An Interactive Learning Environment for Experiential Learning, Problem-based Assessment, and Dynamic Instruction in Engineering

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Computers in Education Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1752.1 - 26.1752.16



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Paper Authors


Peter Goldsmith P.Eng. University of Calgary

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Peter Goldsmith is an Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Calgary. He holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toronto. His research interests are in human-computer interfaces, control theory, robotics, mechanism analysis and design, applied and pure mathematics, and engineering education.

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Work in Progress: Flatlab: An interactive learning environment for experiential learning, problem-based assessment, and dynamic instruction in engineeringThe goal of this work is to develop an interactive learning environment that integratesexperiential learning with assessment and instruction. The prototype application is a juniorcourse on planar mechanisms. In FLATLAB, students quickly build mechanisms and interactwith them via touch gestures, such as tap, drag, and swipe. In contrast to existing CAD andsimulation packages, the FLATLAB interface is designed to be sufficiently simple and intuitivethat pre-university students can master it quickly without training.FLATLAB differs from a physical lab in that learners can query the equations or values of anyvariables of interest, such as angular and linear displacements, velocities, accelerations, instantcenters, forces, and moments. Conversely, FLATLAB can challenge learners to solve for suchquantities or equations or to design a mechanism to specification. In this way, FLATLABintegrates the theoretical with the physical and experiential.FLATLAB stands for Focused Learning, Assessment, and Teaching Laboratory and supportsthe following learning, assessment, and teaching functions: 1) Experiential learning: studentsbuild mechanisms (e.g. four-bar linkages, slider cranks, scotch yokes, cams, gear trains,planetary trains) and manipulate them with their fingers; 2) Experiential design: students rapidlyprototype mechanisms to achieve given specifications and validate their designs; 3) Interactiveexercises: students solve problems interactively in FLATLAB and can receive tutorial feedback;4) Automated assessment: students solve dynamic quizzes and exams posed in FLATLAB (withsolving features disabled), while physically interacting with the exam questions. 5) Dynamiclectures and notes: instructors can use FLATLAB in lectures to draw, animate, and solveproblems or to create lecture notes with embedded FLATLAB mechanisms that students canmanipulate.In this work in progress, we describe the design and initial development of FLATLAB (inMATLAB) and the development of its interactive simulation algorithms. Numerical simulationmethods are avoided in favour of intelligent simulation, which solves for mechanism behaviorvia procedures that mirror the problem solving procedures of human experts. These analyticalsolutions reduce processing time (critical for mobile touch devices) and provide a basis forFLATLAB to explain its reasoning to learners.The design features of FLATLAB are discussed from a pedagogical viewpoint, particularly withrespect to the theory of constructive alignment. The environment also embodies the ASKparadigm, which balances Assessment centered, Student centered, and Knowledge centeredlearning. Finally, we explore the extension of the FLATLAB environment to other courses, suchas statics, dynamics, vibrations, mechatronics, control systems, fluid and solid mechanics,thermodynamics, and circuits.

Goldsmith, P. (2015, June), Work in Progress: Flatlab - An Interactive Learning Environment for Experiential Learning, Problem-based Assessment, and Dynamic Instruction in Engineering Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25088

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