Major chemical engineering concepts such as rate versus the amount of heat transferred and thermal radiation, can be difficult for undergraduates to understand. This can be due to prior knowledge built on what have been characterized as misconceptions (Streveler, Olds, Miller, & Nelson, 2003). Misconceptions about circumstances affecting the rate and amount of heat transferred have been observed in engineering students (Nottis, Prince, & Vigeant, 2010; 2017). Misconceptions about thermal radiation have also been documented (Jacobi, Martin, Mitchell, & Newell, 2003; Nottis et al., 2010, 2017).
Previous research has found that one way to facilitate conceptual understanding and alter misconceptions is with inquiry-based activities. However, there can be differing outcomes based on their method of implementation. For example, prior research has found that inquiry-based physical experiments can increase students’ understanding of difficult engineering concepts (Nottis, Vigeant, Prince, Golightly, & Gadoury, 2018; Vigeant, Prince, Nottis, Koretsky, & Ekstedt, 2016). Other research has shown that computer simulations may be able to more clearly demonstrate a concept than an experiment (De Jong & Van Joolingen, 1998) because they emphasize important data and delete confusing information (Trundle & Bell, 2010). However, does the effectiveness of computer simulations vary by instructional method? Do faculty demonstrations or students independently using simulations work better to increase conceptual understanding? Does the efficacy of each method vary by the concept and its difficulty level?
This quasi-experimental study compared two implementation methods for inquiry-based activities to address misconceptions about thermal radiation and rate versus amount of heat transferred. Intact groups of engineering undergraduates from two different universities across multiple semesters participated to determine whether their understanding of each concept would alter and differ after instruction based on instructional method. One group of participants used computer simulations (designated the student simulation group) while the other group watched as their instructor demonstrated the computer simulations (labeled the faculty demonstration group). The majority of participants were White males, sophomores and juniors, with GPAs at or higher than 3.0. Changes in conceptual understanding were assessed using the Heat and Energy Concept Inventory (HECI; Prince, Vigeant, & Nottis, 2010; 2012) and two of its sub-tests: Rate versus Amount and Radiation.
A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with instructional method and the radiation post-test as the dependent variable revealed a significant difference with a moderate/medium effect size; F (1, 190) = 14.37, p < .01, partial η2 = .07. Those taught by Faculty Demonstration of the Simulation scored significantly higher than students who did the Simulation themselves. For rate versus amount of heat transferred, there were no significant differences between the groups. The differences found for concepts with simulation pedagogies raise questions about whether certain concepts require more scaffolding than others. Needed scaffolding may have occurred with instructor demonstration of the computer simulation for thermal radiation. Heat and temperature concepts are important to understand and require the best teaching methodologies.
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Vigeant, M., Prince, M., Nottis, K., Koretsky, M., & Ekstedt, T. (2016, June). Hands-on, screens-on, and brains-on activities for important concepts in heat transfer, in Proceedings from American Association for Engineering Education Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA.
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