Indiana State University Newsroom

Technology students test software under a National Science Foundation funded research project

March 20, 2014

It may be a simulation, but the situations and skills learned are straight out of real life.

College of Technology students at Indiana State University are participating in a National Science Foundation funded research project testing interactive computer-based learning modules designed to teach diagnostic skills relevant to complex technical systems.

"The project is in response to the need to improve technicians' ability to solve problems," said Tad Foster, a professor in the college whose emphasis is on training. "This project focuses on problem solving and critical thinking. We are attempting to use conceptual mapping to force students to slow down and engage in thinking before taking any action."

Professor George Maughan added that employees who can use utilize critical thinking and problem solving are more efficient.

"We're teaching students to think from the get-go, not to utilize a checklist or to automatically replace parts," Maughan added.

The interactive training modules provided instruction on using conceptual mapping to understand systems and develop a process for diagnosing technical problems. Exercises gave mechanical engineering technology students an opportunity to diagnose faults in multiple technical systems, including an electrical power grid and a manufacturing system.

Industry partners have assisted in verifying the accuracy of the content.

"Both Duke Energy and Bemis Corporation have been extremely helpful in providing technical information to ensure the accuracy of our instructional cases," Maughan said.

The testing gives juniors and seniors a chance to diagnose the issue before showing them what a professional would do in the real-life situation.

"Looking at what the professional did shows you how to approach the issue and how to solve it," said Flavien Sion, a senior from Indianapolis.

Tim Munro of Sullivan said the software focused on more of a management skill base while senior Eric Bryant of Marshall, Ill. said it provided a valuable lesson.

"It made me realize that I need to prioritize tasks when tackling an issue," Bryant said.

Associate Professor Mehran Shahhosseini, along with Foster, designed the case on manufacturing systems. "We are extremely optimistic that our extensive use of illustrations and animation will assist the students in learning somewhat difficult content," Shahhosseini said.

"You have to really break down the system," said Travis Napier, a senior MET student from Naperville, Ill. He added that he will use knowledge gained from this experience at his job with a food manufacturing plant after graduation.

"I can use what I learned in this class to diagnose issues related to manufacturing quality and process," he said.

While computers running these large, complex, technical systems, it takes people to keep things running smoothly.

"The human element needs to look at trends and anticipate what will happen next," Maughan said. "Computers aren't good at anticipating."

Maughan said the students find the training interesting, which could influence the curriculum being used in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.


Contact: George Maughan, ISU College of Technology, 812-237-3368

Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or