Sketch Understanding
Engineering Tools

Enhancing Learning in Engineering with Pen-Based Tutoring Systems

University of California, Mechanical Engineering
Riverside, CA, USA
Thomas Stahovich & Robert Calfee

PROJECT ABSTRACT: We are using HP Tablet PCs to enhance learning in two large introductory engineering courses. In this project we are developing pen-based tutoring systems that can interpret students’ handwritten problem solutions, and provide context-sensitive tutorial feedback. We are also using the tablets to enhance the lecture experience with Classroom Presenter.


Impact on Student Learning

Student performance will be compared across course offerings, with a traditional course design serving as the control. Our tutoring systems will provide a fine-grained assessment of student homework performance, recording the amount of time required, the amount of assistance needed, types of errors made, etc.
One Year Ago – Students struggled in acquiring complex concepts, such as constructing free body diagrams. Failures to learn concepts early on resulted in persistent difficulties.
Today - The instructor can provide focused feedback during lecture based on student responses submitted with Classroom Presenter.
One Year From Now – We expect that our tutoring systems will help diagnose and correct student misconceptions early on, and help foster transfer to more complex problems encountered later in the course.

Impact on Teaching

EE001A Engineering Circuit Analysis I, and ME 010 Statics have a traditional lecture format and weekly problem sets. The goal of this project is to develop tutoring systems that provide individualized instruction for these courses. Because these systems work from hand-written input, they scaffold students in solving problems in the same way they would ordinarily solve them with paper and pencil.

Pilot studies of our systems suggest they are effective at helping students rapidly learn key concepts. We anticipate that these systems will also foster far transfer of concepts, which we will examine in our continuing work.

Technology Implementation

We are developing two pen-based tutoring systems. Kirchhoff’s Pen scaffolds students in the application of Kirchhoff’s laws for circuit analysis, while Newton’s Pen scaffolds students in solving static equilibrium problems. These systems can be used by students working individually or in groups. Classroom Presenter will be used to enhance the lecture environment.


Keywords: Statics, Circuits, Pen-based Tutoring Systems, Perceptual User Interfaces

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