The Cool-It evaluation project is an add-on to the Cool-It game project. In the project we developed a web-based game which allows students to take on the role of a cryogenic engineer. The students work on cryogenic design challenges ranging from MRI design to space station refueling facilities. The nature of the server which does the calculations for the game made it easy to track all the "moves" made by students playing the game and store all that data in a database.
In the evaluation project we have identified nine key relationships between cryogenic design parameters and the resulting system characteristics which we are hoping that students will learn from their play. For example, if you make the strut thinner, the payload temperature will go down, but the power consumed by the refrigerator will go up, and the strut will get weaker. Another relationship (or actually non-relationship) is that if you make the strut longer or shorter, neither will affect its tensile strength. So, for example, if the payload is too warm and the strut is too weak and the student responds by making the strut shorter, that would indicate a misunderstanding of the basic principles involved. One of our goals in designing the game is that students will develop an "intuitive" understanding of these relationships. We theorize that by analyzing particular moves made by a student in light of the current state of the system, we can determine whether those moves demonstrate understanding (or lack of understanding) of the relationships. We are working on tools to help "visualize" the students' learning process. We eventually hope to develop some form of "smart feedback" in the game which will help students come to understand the relationships more quickly and more clearly.