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. This 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 will contribute to the situative learning by closely mapping the learner experience to a real-life scenario.
Advances in technology will allow for us to improve how virtual learning is done in the future. Improving virtual and online means to enhance engineering education can provide a significant benefit to society. 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.
Our project is at the beginning of the development of the virtual learning environment The poster we plan on presenting at the ASEE conference will include the development and finalization of the virtual environment that will cover various concepts involved in the creation of a thermal power plan. The virtual learning environment is developing by the use of LabView.
Initial work started with the selection of three countries, which have energy bugging issues - Jamaica, Panama, and Rwanda. We are currently creating the essential elements required to construct a power plant, such as social, economic, cultural and environmental data of each country. At these sub-sites of the virual learning environment, students will be provided in an easy-to-analyze form data (such as maps, charts, graphs, and tables). Each aspect mentioned above are presented in separate windows (as a sub-VI in LabView) and are navigated using button available at the main window.
In addition to the statistical data for each country, the virtual learning environment will also include the concepts and set of formulas for calculations involved in Rankine cycle, the thermodynamic cycle based on which the power plant works. The learning environment will include a separate window that explains the various stages of the power generation using Rankine cycle in the form of animations and videos. Additionally, the P-v (pressure vs specific volume) and h-s (enthalpy vs entropy) graphs depicting the Rankine cycle will be added to provide thermodynamic concepts involved in each system of the power plant. Finally, the virtual learning environment will include a calculator, with inbuilt steam table (database with thermodynamic properties of steam) to enable calculation of the cycle and component efficiency of the power plant.
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