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A Project Based, Spiral Curriculum For Chemical Engineering

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.39.1 - 3.39.7

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Paper Authors

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William M. Clark

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Anthony G. Dixon

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David DiBiasio

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1313

A Project-Based, Spiral Curriculum for Chemical Engineering

William M. Clark, David DiBiasio, and Anthony G. Dixon Chemical Engineering Department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute


We developed a project-based, spiral curriculum for the chemical engineering sophomore year. The spiral curriculum is a complete restructuring of the traditional curriculum, and emphasizes repetition and integration of topics with increasing complexity throughout the year. It is designed to increase motivation for learning and retention of basic skills and concepts. The new curriculum features multimedia instructional modules, peer-assisted cooperative learning structures, a “just-in-time” learning paradigm, and industrially relevant projects that introduce design concepts early in the year. Our goal is to address problems with the traditional academic structure that include poor retention, segmented learning, and the need to deliver a cost-effective education to a student audience of diverse backgrounds and learning styles.

We will present a detailed description of the spiral curriculum and discuss the results of the first year’s implementation. We are teaching the new sequence to a randomly selected group of sophomores and comparing their performance to students in the traditional sequence. Our evaluation design will be described including the variety of tools used. The assessment program includes a balance of formative and summative measurements, and qualitative and quantitative analyses. Results from the first year data collection will be discussed. These cover comparison of student comprehension of basic fundamentals, performance on open-ended problem solving, communication skills, and attitudes and satisfaction with group work and chemical engineering.


Engineering education in the United States today faces many challenges including: (1) attracting students with a diversity of backgrounds, learning styles, and pre-college preparations to engineering careers, (2) maintaining interest and motivation during a four- year undergraduate education, while at the same time assuring quality and relevance to engineering practice, (3) preparing students for demanding careers that not only require technical competence in an engineering discipline but also require communication, teamwork and life-long learning skills, and (4) maintaining or enhancing quality programs in the face of increasing financial pressure 1,2. It is clear to us that the traditional approach to chemical engineering education is not well suited to meet these challenges.

Clark, W. M., & Dixon, A. G., & DiBiasio, D. (1998, June), A Project Based, Spiral Curriculum For Chemical Engineering Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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