This paper describes the implementation of PathFinder (https://pathfinder.rowan.edu/), a website that facilitates the creation and dissemination of affordable web-books for college students. The purpose of this paper is to describe its implementation in an introduction-to-engineering curriculum at a public university in the north east, and to discuss the use of Pathfinder (or similar websites) in first and second year engineering courses in general.
The PathFinder website allows professors to create, maintain, and access an electronic database of engineering topic folders. Each folder contains information on a single topic and may contain an article and other content, e.g., variables, equations, images, videos, exercises, and references. Articles contain links to content in other folders. Chapters are special articles that aggregate content from multiple folders to communicate complex topics. A PathFinder web-book contains multiple chapters with student exercises for each chapter. Each chapter is easily customized for individual institutions. Thus, professors can easily create additional articles, chapters, and exercises.
When a student accesses a web-book chapter, PathFinder assembles content on the fly from the latest and most up-to-date information in its database. Students easily navigate chapters by scrolling or using links to jump to any heading, table, figure, equation, or example. Chapters are associated with BEFORE and AFTER exercises. Students complete BEFORE exercises before the professor covers the associated chapter in class; thus, PathFinder promotes a flipped classroom. Students complete AFTER exercises after a chapter is covered in class, i.e., AFTER exercises are homework. Exercises can be multiple-choice or calculation-based. They are chosen from banks, so each student gets a different set of exercises. PathFinder randomly selects the input values of calculation-based exercises, so even when two students get the same exercise they cannot simply copy answers. Exercises are graded automatically, freeing graders to spend more effort on higher-level assignments, e.g., reports.
PathFinder provides web-books to three introductory, multidisciplinary engineering courses, each with 16 or 17 sections. This paper outlines the creation of PathFinder content, the implementation of PathFinder in courses, the merits of its use, and how it or similar web-book systems can be adopted by first year engineering programs.
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