Icon for: Diana Bairakatrova


Virginia Tech

Collaborative Research: vObjects - Understanding their Utility to Enhance Lea...

NSF Awards: 1712210

2019 (see original presentation & discussion)


Physical objects help learning with both well-defined and ill-structured problems. However, in many instances, the use of physical objects in instruction can be restrictive, especially when the concepts are abstract. Thermodynamics is a subject replete with abstract concepts, which are often hard for students to understand. Many problems that students encounter in thermodynamics instruction involve ill-structured problems. Furthermore, the scale of constructed thermodynamic artifacts makes it difficult, if not impossible, for students to interact with authentic objects. Our study investigates how the manipulation of virtual objects can help students translate foundational knowledge to solve ill-structured problems in thermodynamics. The virtual objects (vObjects) project contributes to the situative learning by closely mapping the learner experience to a real-life scenario. The primary contribution of this research is to directly improve and transform undergraduate engineering education by enhancing student learning in of one of the most difficult and abstract engineering subjects. A comprehensive understanding of the utility of virtual objects in engineering can contribute to the development of online engineering learning environments, including augmented reality environments that closely mimic the use of objects to increase engagement and retention. Increasing participation in STEM by encouraging more virtual learning of engineering skills by definition can broaden participation. The evaluation strategies further provide a variety of opportunities for new research efforts to develop next generation STEM curricula for eLearning environments integrated with effective experiential learning.

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