This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

An Intelligent and Interactive Simulation and Tutoring Environment for Exploring and Learning Simple Machines




Myneni, Lakshman Sundeep

Type of Degree



Computer Science


Students in middle school science classes have difficulty mastering physics concepts such as energy and work, taught in the context of simple machines. Moreover, students' naive conceptions of physics often remain unchanged after completing a science class. To address this problem, I developed an intelligent tutoring system, called the Virtual Physics System (ViPS), which coaches students through problem solving with one class of simple machines, pulley systems. The tutor uses a unique cognitive based approach to teaching simple machines, and includes innovations in three areas. (1) It employs a teaching strategy that focuses on highlighting links among concepts of the domain that are essential for conceptual understanding yet are seldom learned by students. (2) Concepts are taught through a combination of effective human tutoring techniques (e.g., hinting) and simulations. (3) For each student, the system identifies which misconceptions he or she has, from a common set of student misconceptions gathered from domain experts, and tailors tutoring to match the correct line of scientific reasoning regarding the misconceptions. ViPS was implemented as a platform on which students can design and simulate pulley system experiments, integrated with a constraint-based tutor that intervenes when students make errors during problem solving to teach them and to help them. ViPS has a web-based client-server architecture, and has been implemented using Java technologies. ViPS is different from existing physics simulations and tutoring systems due to several original features. (1). It is the first system to integrate a simulation based virtual experimentation platform with an intelligent tutoring component. (2) It uses a novel approach, based on Bayesian networks, to help students construct correct pulley systems for experimental simulation. (3) It identifies student misconceptions based on a novel decision tree applied to student pretest scores, and tailors tutoring to individual students based on detected misconceptions. ViPS has been evaluated through usability and usefulness experiments with undergraduate engineering students taking their first college-level engineering physics course and undergraduate pre-service teachers taking their first college-level physics course. These experiments demonstrated that ViPS is highly usable and effective. Students using ViPS reduced their misconceptions, and students conducting virtual experiments in ViPS learned more than students who conducted experiments with physical pulley systems. Interestingly, it was also found that college students exhibited many of the same misconceptions that have been identified in middle school students.