Computer problem-solving coaches for introductory physics: Design and usability studies

Qing X. Ryan, Evan Frodermann, Kenneth Heller, Leonardo Hsu, Andrew Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The combination of modern computing power, the interactivity of web applications, and the flexibility of object-oriented programming may finally be sufficient to create computer coaches that can help students develop metacognitive problem-solving skills, an important competence in our rapidly changing technological society. However, no matter how effective such coaches might be, they will only be useful if they are attractive to students. We describe the design and testing of a set of web-based computer programs that act as personal coaches to students while they practice solving problems from introductory physics. The coaches are designed to supplement regular human instruction, giving students access to effective forms of practice outside class. We present results from large-scale usability tests of the computer coaches and discuss their implications for future versions of the coaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number010105
JournalPhysical Review Physics Education Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 16 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the combined work of many faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, post-docs, and programmers. Special acknowledgments go to Fred Reif for inspiring the creation of these coaches with his pioneering work on the PALs at Carnegie Mellon University and to Pat Heller for her work on student problem solving that is reflected in these coaches. We also thank Jen Docktor, Paul Haines, Koblar Alan Jackson, Yuichi Kubota, Jia-Ling Lin, and Jie Yang for their important contributions, as well as the contributions of numerous undergraduates who coded the coaches and pulled and organized student usage data. This work was supported by the University of Minnesota and the National Science Foundation under Grants No. DUE-0715615 and No. DUE-1226197.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 authors. Published by the American Physical Society. Published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article's title, journal citation, and DOI.


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