Studying the Impact of Comics as Visual Learning Tools

Main photo: An educational comic by Luke Landherr and Monica Keszler explains the history of comics. Landherr (drawn in the top panel) is doing research on how effective comics are as a STEM learning tool.

ChE Distinguished Teaching Professor Luke Landherr was awarded a $300,000 NSF grant for “Conservation Principles, Illustrated: Analyzing the Impact of Informal Visual Learning Tools on Educational Engineering Through Comics.” The grant will study the impact of comics as visual learning tools by developing a series of comics and ConcepTest questions addressing concepts in a core introductory chemical engineering course.

Abstract Source: NSF

This project aims to serve the national interest by evaluating the impact of informal visual learning tools in undergraduate engineering courses through the use of comics. Engineering students have shown a prevalence for learning from visual learning tools, which represents a challenge when much of engineering instruction can be highly theoretical without obvious visual representation to support students? comprehension. Developing better visual learning techniques and instruction would better communicate concepts while also helping students to more thoroughly engage with the information. Increasing the visual content of engineering instruction would promote students? conceptual understanding. This project aims to address these challenges in engineering education through a dedicated, theoretically grounded, multi-institution study of multiple long-form comics across multiple concepts within a chemical engineering course. This project is the first study integrating a series of long-form educational comics over an entire engineering course, evaluating improvements in student interest, confidence, and understanding through the medium of comics. The project is positioned to develop a series of educational comics and integrate them into undergraduate chemical engineering course instruction of students of diverse backgrounds studying in different institutional contexts, and to evaluate changes in student motivation and comprehension. Studying the potential of comics in engineering education has the potential to help meet the increasing need for additional informal learning tools, by analyzing how well comics can provide another useful resource for instructors. The assessment of how comics can address the needs for more informal, visual, and representative learning approaches in undergraduate education can be beneficial to the field.

This project will develop a series of comics and ConcepTest questions addressing concepts in a core introductory chemical engineering course, to be implemented into coursework at Northeastern University, North Carolina State University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Connecticut, Prairie View A&M University, and Cooper Union. This project represents the first dedicated study reviewing the impact of multiple long-form comics across multiple concepts within an engineering course. Through both formative and summative evaluation in this project, the project aims to address two central research questions: 1) What is the impact on student interest, confidence, and understanding through the use of comics in undergraduate learning environments? 2) What are the best practices for using comics as informal supplemental learning tools and what is the transportability of these practices? This project plans to apply the MUSIC model of academic motivation (eMpowerment, Usefulness, Success, Interest, and Caring) to assess the students? interest in the subjects and confidence in their aptitude and determine how increases in student motivation lead to increased student learning. The project plans to study the effectiveness of a potentially transformative approach to instruction through the use of comics as informal, virtual learning tools. The NSF IUSE: EDU Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.

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Related Faculty: Luke Landherr

Related Departments:Chemical Engineering