A SPARKS Project student uses an online simulation to learn about circuits and electronics testing.
performance in a safe and supportive
environment. The assessments provide
a sequence of realistic tasks of increasing complexity reminiscent of those
commonly used in the laboratory
portion of the standard college-level
As students complete each task,
the computer scores them and offers
context-sensitive feedback, pointing
out ways their performance could be
improved and encouraging them to
try again. At any time in this process,
students can request a full report of
their performance, including the types
of errors they made and the frequency
of those errors. If the students have
registered as part of a course, the in-
structor also has access to these reports.
Professors can easily spot deficiencies
in student understanding and tailor
their lessons to fit the needs of the
What the Data Show
In a recent pilot project on measuring
resistance with high school students,
administrators sought student feed-
ATE SHOWCASE ...
back on the experience. Did the activity
teach them anything? Were they able
to improve their scores over multiple
trials? Would they want to use the
SPARKS modules again?
The first round of tests took place at
the Minuteman Career and Technical
High School in Lincoln, Mass., where
a dozen students were asked to work
through the resistor assessment.
Students were interrupted at key points
in the process and asked whether they
understood the directions, why they set
up the multimeter a certain way, and
how they arrived at certain calculations.
Through these exchanges, instructors
learned what type, and what depth, of
feedback the students needed in order to
understand and correct their mistakes.
Program administrators used student
responses to refine the assessment.
SPARKS remains a work in progress.
Administrators are building a simulated
breadboard that will enable students to
build and test circuits consisting of
resistors and DC voltage sources.
The components will be used to create
assessments that explore phenomena
associated with time-varying signals.
The hope is that by spring 2011, all
of the SPARKS assessments will be
available for students to take online,
wherever they are, in preparation for
Thanks to the program’s diligent
recordkeeping and reporting, instructors can be confident that their students will benefit from the hands-on
John Chamberlain is a senior associate at
the Center for Occupational Research and
Development in Texas and a co-principal
investigator on the SPARKS Project; Paul
horwitz is a senior scientist at the Concord
Consortium in Concord, Mass., and the
principal investigator on the SPARKS Project. al Koon is a professor and head of the
Electronics Engineering Technology Program at Virginia’s Tidewater Community
College. trudi lord is a research associate
at the Concord Consortium and the project
manager on the SPARKS Project.