(454b) A Collection of Virtual Experiments with Tracking of Student Interraction Data | AIChE

(454b) A Collection of Virtual Experiments with Tracking of Student Interraction Data


Butterfield, A. E. - Presenter, University of Utah
Branch, K. - Presenter, University of Utah

In the area of online pedagogy for engineers, it is difficult to find accessible interactive simulations which may be used to both educate and assess students. We have developed a collection of online simulations and a means of tracking student usage, and have used these simulations in the teaching of core chemical engineering concepts.

Multiple simulations have been created for this site and are used as the focus of problems for student homework. The simulations are written in PHP and Javascript to create dynamic, interactive environments. They are accessible on any internet-capable device, from mobile phones to desktops, without the need to install proprietary software or apps, such as Adobe Flash, which might limit their reach to certain operating systems. Furthermore, such an approach does not require the user to permit Java code to run on their machine. This collection of simulations covers a wide range of core chemical engineering concepts: reaction kinetics, fluid dynamics, microbial growth, and more.

Around this collection of simulations we have created a database system for tracking students and their performance. Students create a unique user profile containing information which may be used to track progress through our curriculum and the effect of our curriculum on underrepresented populations. Profile information includes names, contact information, university ID, race and ethnicity, gender, age, and educational background. Student information is stored in a protected mySQL database and their login requires an encrypted password.

Students are assigned to experiment with the simulations in order to determine various, randomly selected physical constants, such as diffusivities or reaction rate constants. Simulated data may be analyzed by students online or exported to be analyzed in, for example, Microsoft Excel. Once a student submits an answer they receive immediate feedback. Student performance is used to both assign credit for course assignments and to give the student “experience points” which accumulate as they progress through various simulations, thereby adding a gaming aspect to the site.

All student interactions with the simulations are recorded, such as changing of simulation settings, watching instructional screencasts, the time of day, all mouse movements, their IP address, and more.  This information has been used to discover insights into student use of such simulations and improve the teaching material in general. Visualization tools have been created to aid instructors in grading and in deciphering student usage data online.

In this work we present the results of using this online system as a means to educate and assess students, and as a means to accommodate problems which require student experimentation within ever-expanding class sizes.