Tool-Based Curricula and Visual Learning


  • Dragica Vasileska
  • Gerhard Klimeck
  • A. Magana
  • S. M. Goodnick



In the last twenty years nanotechnology hasrevolutionized the world of information theory, computers andother important disciplines, such as medicine, where it hascontributed significantly in the creation of more sophisticateddiagnostic tools. Therefore, it is important for people working innanotechnology to better understand basic concepts to be morecreative and productive. To further foster the progress onNanotechnology in the USA, the National Science Foundation hascreated the Network for Computational Nanotechnology (NCN)and the dissemination of all the information from member andnon-member participants of the NCN is enabled by thecommunity website nanoHUB’s signatureservices online simulation that enables the operation ofsophisticated research and educational simulation engines with acommon browser. No software installation or local computingpower is needed. The simulation tools as well as nano-conceptsare augmented by educational materials, assignments, and toolbasedcurricula, which are assemblies of tools that help studentsexcel in a particular area.As elaborated later in the text, it is the visual mode of learningthat we are exploiting in achieving faster and better results withstudents that go through simulation tool-based curricula. Thereare several tool based curricula already developed on thenanoHUB and undergoing further development, out of which fiveare directly related to nanoelectronics. They are: ABACUS –device simulation module; ACUTE – Computational Electronicsmodule; ANTSY – bending toolkit; and AQME – quantummechanics module. The methodology behind tool-based curriculais discussed in details. Then, the current status of each module ispresented, including user statistics and student learningindicatives. Particular simulation tool is explored further todemonstrate the ease by which students can grasp information.Representative of Abacus is PN-Junction Lab; representative ofAQME is PCPBT tool; and representative of ACUTE isSCHRED, which has 97 citations in research papers and is themost popular tool on were collected from three courses offered at ArizonaState University. These courses were: EEE434/591, the QuantumMechanics class offered in the fall 2007; EEE 101 EngineeringDesign, offered in the spring 2008; and EEE533 SemiconductorManuscript received 2 December 2013. Received in revised form 25December 2013. Accepted for publication 26 December 2013.This work was financially supported from NSF Grant under grant No. NSFECS 0901251 is also acknowledged.This work was presented at the 9th, European conference on e-Learning(2010).Dragica Vasileska is with the Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ USA(phone: +1-480-965-6651; e-mail: Klimeck is with Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN USA ( Magana is with Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN USA ( M. Goodnick is with the Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ USA ( and Process Simulation, offered in the fall 2009. Thestudy consisted of students participating in a voluntary Likertscalesurvey that focused on: Learning outcomes, Evidence of thelearning, Pedagogical approach and Usability aspects. Inparticular, the survey investigated how intuitive the tools are.The results of the study identified differences in the waystudents perceived the simulation tools. Graduateand undergraduate students reported more positive experienceswith simulations than freshman students did.Potential explanations for these differences are: a) freshmanstudents have not fully developed graphical literacy skills; b)students may lack the prior knowledge required at the time theyinteract with the tool; and c) students may lack interests in thetopic and have not yet seen the value of how these tools can beapplied toward their own learning goals. A potential support toovercome some of these difficulties may be by embedding just-intimeinstructional supports together with the simulation tools.