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Best Practices in Teaching Unit Ops: the “Field Session” Lab Experience at the Colorado School of Mines

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Best Practices for Chemical Engineering Lab-Based Courses

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Michael David Mau Barankin Colorado School of Mines

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Michael D. M. Barankin is a Teaching Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Dr. Barankin received his B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of CA, Los Angeles in 2002 and 2009, respectively; and he received his M.S., graduating with honors, from the Technical University in Delft, the Netherlands (TU Delft) in 2004. After a post-doctoral appointment at TU Delft through 2011, Dr. Barankin was a lecturer at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, where he taught both in Dutch and in English. During this time his primary teaching and course development responsibilities were wide-ranging, but included running the Unit Operations laboratory, introducing Aspen Plus software to the curriculum, and developing a course for a new M.S. program on Renewable Energy (EUREC). In conjunction with his teaching appointment, he supervised dozens of internships (a part of the curriculum at the Hanze), and a number of undergraduate research projects with the Energy Knowledge Center (EKC) as well as a master’s thesis. In 2016, Dr. Barankin returned to the US to teach at the Colorado School of Mines. His primary teaching and course development responsibilities here include the Unit Operations Lab and Senior Design (including Aspen), among other undergraduate core courses. His research interests include digital & online methods in engineering education.

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Tracy Q. Gardner Colorado School of Mines

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Tracy Q. Gardner graduated from the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) with B.S. degrees in chemical engineering and petroleum refining (CEPR) and in mathematical and computer sciences (MCS) in 1996 and with an M.S. degree in CEPR in 1998. She then got her Ph.D. in chemical engineering, studying transport in zeolite membranes, from CU, Boulder, in 2002. She did a postdoc at TUDelft in the Netherlands in 2002 and 2003, studying oxygen conducting mixed oxide membranes and teaching reactor engineering, and she has been teaching back at CSM since 2004. She is now a Teaching Professor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at CSM. Her primary research focus is in pedagogy, specifically in utilizing tablets and other technology and different teaching methods to increase student engagement and reduce/eliminate lecturing in the classroom. She likes to play with her kids, play racquetball, run, bike, swim, and play pool in her free time.

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Jason C. Ganley Colorado School of Mines

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The results of a 2017 comprehensive survey of 70 programs [1] revealed that the unit ops laboratory course offered during a 6-week summer “Field Session” at the Colorado School of Mines is an outlier from other U.S. programs in many ways. The biggest differences between this course and the typical unit ops course run concurrently with other courses are the immersive experience and the extent and nature of the real-time formative and summative assessments provided. Students and faculty work full- or close to full-time (students ~40-60+ and faculty ~30-40+ hours per week) exclusively on this course. This level of personal interaction & feedback, and the ways in which they are conducted, build connections and community amongst all involved and motivate student engagement and cooperation. This in turn leads to students achieving significant technical and non-technical learning outcomes and the course is recognized by alumni and recruiters as highly effective at preparing students for the workplace. Furthermore, despite the intense pace and depth and breadth of skills covered and assessed in the course, the fail rate is effectively zero. The course is offered twice each summer, each 6-week session currently accommodating up to 84 students, with a Student-to-Professor ratio of up to 12:1 (yes, 7 faculty per session!). There are also writing instructors, a lab manager, and at least two TA’s working full- to nearly full-time to help manage the course. There is 1 experiment per 6 students and each professor is in charge of 2 experiments. Each student runs 8 of the experiments and repeats the second one as their 9th with additional objectives that their group designs. During week 1 students run one and during weeks 2-5 they run two experiments per week, each with different teams, delivering one oral presentation and one written report per week. Hence, students complete a total of nine summative communication reports, placing this program in the ≤ 11% category of all programs surveyed in 2017 whose students do 9 or more experiments. In addition to running and reporting on the experiments, students attend workshops on Safety, Graphics, Statistical Analysis, Technical Writing, and Higher-Order-Thinking Skills. For three of the four written reports, students attend separate writing-focused and technical draft reviews. For both reviews the faculty members have read and commented the draft in advance. These 20-45 minutes-long review sessions offer the students a plethora of useful timely feedback prior to summative assessment. This significant and coordinated time investment by both instructors and students is one of the key elements of this format that is difficult to duplicate in a more typically-timed course. The decades-running highly effective structure and delivery method of this course will be presented along with results from course evaluations, student assessments, and alumni & recruiter surveys. Comparative assessments of a variation of the course in which it was framed in a more creative and inviting friendly-competition manner will also be presented. Many “best practice” elements of this course will be discussed in terms of their portability to the typical semester or quarter timeframe.

Barankin, M. D. M., & Gardner, T. Q., & Ganley, J. C. (2019, June), Best Practices in Teaching Unit Ops: the “Field Session” Lab Experience at the Colorado School of Mines Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32149

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