Classwork into Practice – Cool It

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Learning doesn’t happen when you are sitting in the classroom where the person is lecturing to you. It happens when you are using [knowledge] in real-life applications”

-Dr. John Pfotenhauer - Professor Mechanical Engineering,
College of Engineering

Dr. Pfotenhauer’s initial application for an Engage Innovation Simulations and Games Award was not accepted. “I had written a proposal that may not have been that stellar,” admits Pfotenhauer. “But, I remember having really good discussions with [Engage staff] that wound up directly informing the current game to make my idea workable.”

The team of Engage staff formed around this educational need helped Dr. Pfotenhauer to develop Cool It, a simulation that can be used by anyone, at any level, to start teaching themselves about the issues around cryogenics.

screen shot of cool it game

Cool It is an alternative to calculation-based homework sets in Dr. Pfotenhauer’s cryogenics class. But this game is no mere calculator. Real-life engineering challenges and graphically amplified results transform this game into a learning tool that motivates exploration and provides rapid meaningful feedback to real-life engineering design challenges. As with many engineering projects, solutions are obtained by adjusting a variety of interrelated parameters within a set of physical constraints to satisfy a threshold condition.

I am really thankful that the university funds a program like Engage”

-Dr. John Pfotenhauer - Professor Mechanical Engineering,
College of Engineering

Cool It teaches principles of cryogenic design by assigning the student/player to the role of a cryogenic consultant. He or she chooses from a selection of real-life cryogenic challenges in the fields of space, medicine, communications, electric power, or defense, and, while minimizing cost, develops a design that satisfies a set of defined constraints.

screen shot of cool it game

Dr. Pfotenhauer has found that Cool It can make the learning fun, increase time students spend on learning tasks, and serve as a nice springboard for discussion. Additionally, the Cool It design team was awarded second place in the 2011 Interactive category of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology Multimedia Production Awards AECT/MPD. This award acknowledges innovations that define best practices for multimedia in education and communication.

screen shot of cool it game

Dr. Pfotenhauer already received an NSF grant to use Cool It to explore issues of gender in engineering and to refine new modes of assessment around game-based learning. Dr. Pfotenhauer has additional ambitions for Cool It. “ When I go to conferences, I run into people who say, ‘Hey, you are the new cryogenics person.’ But they do not know where to go, or how to educate themselves. Cool It could be that [educational piece] someday.”