Date of Award

Fall 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Computer and Information Technology

First Advisor

Alejandra J. Magana

Committee Member 1

Bedrich Benes

Committee Member 2

Ali Shakouri


Computer simulations have been extensively used with educational purposes. However, the successful implementation in order to improve learning has been a matter of debate in research in education. The purpose of this case study is to analyze how a set of computer simulations can improve student understanding of thermoelectric devices. The study was developed in a learning context characterized by the advanced degree of difficulty of the topics treated, the high academic level of education of the students, and the online nature of the learning environment. As part of the course, students were provided with instructional materials that guided the simulation practice; a homework assignment and an instructional assessment were the strategies used for this purpose. Learning gains, instructional support effect, and students' perceptions about the course were investigated.

Students significantly improved their conceptual understanding of thermoelectric devices. Yet, the overall performance was considered as moderate. Neither the homework assignment nor the instructional assessment had an effect on the learning gains of the students. Student perceptions about the simulations were positive. This satisfaction was not associated with the student performance on the learning tasks.

These results support the agreement that computer simulations have positive effects on student learning gains. The controversy of the instructional support findings can be explained by the difference on the learning context in which this study was developed when compared to the existing research on this field. Further research is recommended on how to enhance the user experience with the simulation through the use of different strategies for inquiry-based learning. Particularly, more studies for higher education and online learning are encouraged.