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How engineering instructors use nanoHUB simulations as learning tools?

By Alejandra J. Magana

Purdue University

Published on

Abstract

In this section we provide a description of two of the most frequent ways engineering instructors incorporate nanoHUB simulations as learning tools. In the supporting document section we provide case studies that describe in detail specific ways in which instructors have incorporated nanoHUB simulation tools into their courses. Most of these cases also describe how students perceived these ways their instructors used nanoHUB simulations as learning tools.

Instructors Using Simulation Tools

Engineering instructors who teach graduate and undergraduate courses use nanoHUB simulation tools as part of their teaching and learning activities.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Instructors incorporate nanoHUB simulation tools to convey conceptual understanding of physical principles and engineering skills and to predict system performance relative to a design task. In particular, instructors want their students to develop intuitive understanding of the phenomenon under study and, at the same time, become critical users of simulation tools. Instructors also want their students to become familiar with the literature in the area of study. Instructors usually focus large part of their courses on the fundamental governing physical principles of devices or materials (e.g. circuits, semiconductors, etc.), and for the case of graduate courses they also focus their teaching on the design and evaluation of devices. Some specific goals instructors want to accomplish by incorporating simulation tools are:

  1. identify what computational simulations are and how to find them
  2. distinguish practical applications of science
  3. employ tools collect data as in a laboratory experiment
  4. identify the cause-effect relationship of the underlying model
  5. predict the results and/or performance of an experiment or design task
  6. validate the results or performance of an experiment
  7. discriminate between advantages and constraints of different models for a given phenomenon

General Pedagogical Approach

The main instructional approach instructors follow is to first introduce in class the physical principles defining the behavior of a device, material, or phenomenon and then have students apply these principles with the homework assignments using the simulation tools. By using the simulation tools as part of the homework assignments, what instructors want for students to notice are the differences between theory versus simulation or how models can represent a physical phenomenon. For example, Instructors ask their students to first solve the analytical solution, and then, through nanoHUB, check the solution of their hand calculation. Instructors also follow a series of learning strategies to provide opportunities for their students to compare and contrast aspects different user interfaces (e.g. graphical and non graphical) of different simulation tools and also to compare and contrast different models embedded in different simulation tools.

Learning Strategies Employed

Instructors offer some resources to their students to help them approach their solution to their homework assignments. They usually couple the homework assignments with nanoHUB online lectures that they recorded or other online resources such as seminar series or powered curriculum. Instructors carefully select these lectures or seminars to help students in three particular ways: a) to help them comprehend more the physical phenomena, b) to explain the underlying model and assumptions embedded in the simulation tool and c) to introduce to students with the computational technique employed to program the simulation tool.

Formative Feedback Provided

Instructors also offer office hours so students can come and clarify their doubts while approaching the solution to the homework assignments. They also create wikipages in the nanoHUB where instructors and students keep conversations and share resources. Therefore, students receive help not only from the instructor or teaching assistant when available, but also from their peers.

When instructors grade students' homework assignments always verify whether the responses are correct or incorrect. They also provide thrugh the nanoHUB wiki or the course website a detailed solution to the homework assignment. When required, they also explain during class time how to approach the solution to the homework assignment.

See Examples of case studies of professors using simulations: Dr. Sanders, Dr. Denner, and Dr. Bowen


Instructors Building Simulation Tools

Instructors have used and developed nanoHUB.org simulation tools in the past as part of their research and have also incorporated these tools and other commercial tools as part of their teaching and learning activities.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Instructors incorporate nanoHUB simulation tools with the main goal to not only convey physical and engineering principles, but also to teach computational techniques. Instructors use simulations to have students create computational models to predict model performance relative to observed phenomena. In particular, instructors focus their courses in teaching modeling and computational techniques, and emphasize the application of those techniques to approach engineering tasks. Instructors want their students to develop intuitive understanding of the phenomenon under study by developing simulation tools. They also want students to become familiar with the literature in the area of study. In particular, Instructors want their students to:

  1. identify what computational simulations are and how to find them
  2. distinguish practical applications of science
  3. employ tools to collect data as in a laboratory experiment
  4. identify the cause-effect relationship of the underlying model
  5. evaluate the accuracy of a given model and/or its computational implementation
  6. implement computational techniques in a modeling task
  7. discriminate between advantages and constraints of different models for a given phenomenon

General Pedagogical Approach

The main instructional approach instructors follow is to first introduce in class the physical principles defining the behavior of a device, material, or phenomenon and then have students apply these principles with the homework assignments or lab practice using the simulation tools. By using the simulation tools as part of the homework assignments or projects, what instructors want their students to notice are the difference between theory versus simulation or how models can represent a physical phenomenon. For example, instructors follow a hands-on approach in which students have an opportunity to interact and/or implement simulation tools to know what is inside the box. For this purpose, instructors follow a series of learning strategies to provide opportunities for their students to be able to compare and contrast by programming their own simulations (a simple version or a portion of it), and just run a simulation tool.

Learning Strategies Employed

Instructors offer additional resources to their students to help them approach their solution to their homework assignments. They usually couple the homework assignments with nanoHUB online lectures that they recorded or other online resources such as seminar series or powered curriculum. When students have to develop their own simulation tools, they usually provide students with programming scripts that serve as a starting point. For example, they may ask students to just change one portion or function of the code or pre-code a template so students can complete the rest of the script by implementing the required functionality.

Formative Feedback Provided

Instructors generally offer office hours so students can come and clarify their doubts while approaching the solution to the homework assignment. They also create wikipages in the nanoHUB so instructors and students can keep conversations and share resources. They also send frequent emails to students with tips and updates.
Usually students have a final presentation before they have to deliver the report or solution to the homework assignment. In these oral presentations students ask questions and receive feedback from instructors and their peers. Instructors, during these presentations, have an opportunity to ask questions and also provide clarifications. When required, instructors also explain during class time how to approach the solution to the homework assignment.

See Examples of case studies of professors building simulations: Dr. Hass, Dr. Richardson, and Dr. Brown

Credits

This contribution is based on Magana, A. J., (2009).

Sponsored by

Network for Computational Nanotechnology

Publications

Magana, A. J., (2009). Professors' and Students' Perceptions and Experiences of Computational Simulations as Learning Tools. Dissertations & Theses @ CIC Institutions. (Publication No. AAT 3379666). UMI No. 11044

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Alejandra J. Magana (2010), "How engineering instructors use nanoHUB simulations as learning tools?," http://nanohub.org/resources/8742.

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Tags

nanoHUB.org, a resource for nanoscience and nanotechnology, is supported by the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.