This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Development and Testing of Innovative Instructional Materials to Improve Student Learning in Engineering Classes - Case Studies, Smart Scenarios and Serious Games




Rajan, Pramod

Type of Degree



Mechanical Engineering


Most mechanical engineering courses require students to work on over-simplified theoretical representations of real-world problems. Although this gives students an in-depth understanding of concepts and principles, they do not learn to apply these theories to solve the complex and multi-dimensional practical problems that they will need to deal with once they enter the workplace. These courses also seldom engage and motivate students. There is therefore a need to develop new instructional materials to improve student learning outcomes in engineering education. This study investigated how best to develop and test the effectiveness of case studies, smart scenarios and serious games to teach engineering concepts and improve student learning outcomes for undergraduate mechanical engineering students. The multimedia case study on identifying welding defects developed for this research study was tested with both undergraduate and graduate mechanical engineering students. The majority of the students considered the case studies to be beneficial and an effective way of linking mechanical engineering concepts to real-world issues. However, several students noted that the case studies occasionally lacked student interaction/immersion and were too rich in technical content, possibly making them overly complex for all those enrolled in freshman engineering classes. This led to the development of smart scenarios, which the majority of the students found to be both realistic and novel. They commented that the smart scenarios made them read through the material and they liked the gaming aspect of it. However, the student responses also indicated that the smart scenarios were tedious at times and problems needed to be broken down further to teach simpler concepts in the relatively short classroom time available. They suggested that the smart scenarios would benefit from more gaming functionality. This led to the development of a serious game to teach engineering concepts. This novel approach to teaching engineering concepts was developed in partnership with Toolwire Inc. The effectiveness of using a serious game to teach the concept of engineering design process was tested using the Presage-Pedagogy-Process-Product (4P) model in a control/experimental setting. Hierarchical multiple regression analysis was applied to investigate the inter-relationships among presage factors (gender, race and learning styles), instructional materials (pedagogy) and gains in higher order cognitive skills, concentration, student enjoyment, goal clarity (process variables) and improvement in achieving learning outcomes (product variables). All the students in the experimental group who worked with the game achieved better learning outcomes, had higher performance scores in a pasta tower design challenge, and higher perceived concentration levels. In focus group sessions, students commented that the serious game helped them understand the effect of different shapes and structures when presented with the practical challenge of designing and building pasta towers.