INTRODUCTION: Engineering fundamentals, such as Thermodynamics, often involve lots of math and abstract theory. As a result students perceive them as tedious and difficult to learn. Without labs or other practical, experience-driven activities, students may not have the opportunity to relate to the content which can negatively impact engagement and learning outcomes.
OBJECTIVES: Many researchers have documented the interaction between emotion and cognition in learning dimensions such as memory, attention, reasoning, and problem solving. We aim to develop and assess teaching methods which consider both the cognitive and emotional aspects of learning. These methods and activities are intended to afford students the opportunity to explore, learn and reconsider, in a playful sense, without repercussion, in order to give students an exciting way to learn an abstract topic and to improve learning outcomes by increasing engagement. This study also aims to assess student experience in salient terms which can help us understand how play and emotion interact with learning in engineering education.
APPROACH: Students in a sophomore-level Thermodynamics class are taught using play-in-learning methods including interactive lectures with an emphasis on active-learning, team projects which involve learning from and interacting with professional engineers and sharing findings with the larger community, as well as gamified, electronic class-quizzes which give students immediate learning feedback and reward comprehension and active participation.
In this study, participants from the 130 student class respond to a questionnaire before and during select play-in-learning activities to assess their experience and emotional valance using emoji-based scales. Participants are also asked to document meaningful or impactful learning experiences which may be correlated with teaching methodologies and explored in individual or small group interviews. These descriptive and emotional metrics will be compared to quantitative learning outcomes. Assessment of learning outcomes in the short-term will be done using a post-test immediately following the activity and again several weeks after to investigate retention. Where possible these results will be compared to similar metrics of students in a separate section of the course not using these play-in-learning methods to provide a control.
RESULTS: Findings from this in-progress study will suggest how students respond to play-in-learning activities. This emotional response may impact learning outcomes. Of course, the findings of this study may be affected by the response to novelty in course structure or personal variation in response to the format. Nonetheless, this work proposes a framework for promoting engagement in engineering education at the undergraduate level which is based in a fundamental aspect of human enjoyment, play. We hope to report what works in an attempt to inspire others to try these methods as well.
IMPLICATIONS: As a natural consequence of interest and attention, it is far easier to study things which we find interesting. The findings of this study may provide some practical insight into how to use this principle to improve the learning experience for any subject.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.