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Transforming Material Education for Non Majors using Video Game Style Virtual Laboratory

P. Ari-Gur, P. Thannhauser, P. Ikonomov, R. Rabiej, D. Litynski, and T. Bayne, M. Hassan M, J. Johnston | Western Michigan University, Louisiana State University and Muskegon Community College, USA

Transforming Material Education for Non Majors using Video Game Style Virtual Laboratory

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Materials science is a required course for undergraduate mechanical engineering students and other non-majors. Due to budgetary and time constraints, the materials science course is offered at many institutions in the format of lecture only, even though laboratory experience is believed to play a critical role in the engineering student educational experience. The project, funded by Hewlett-Packard and NSF, addresses the issues of absent lab experience and low passing rate in this course. It also targets improved students' comprehension and excitement about materials science. A unique set of video game style virtual laboratory experiments were developed. The experiments include both basic ones, such as tensile test of alloys and heat treatment of steel, as well as advanced instrumentation (scanning electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction). The laboratory is conducted on laptops, in the physical lab, in an open lab format. That gives the students an opportunity to watch, for example, a sample under the microscope and ask the TA questions. At MCC, the virtual laboratory is used as a preparation prior to the physical lab. It has shown excellent improvement in comprehension. Assessment of the virtual laboratories has been conducted at several institutions in the US and abroad. It included diverse populations in a variety of universities and community colleges with positive results from both learning outcome and student attitude. The laboratories proved to be successful for demonstrations and hands-on recruiting events for middle and high school students. In conclusion, virtual laboratories are a cost-effective method to provide students with laboratory experience that is practical for large classes of materials science for non-majors. We continue to develop more modules and provide the developed ones free of charge to requestors around the country and the world.