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Bi-Modal No More Shifting the Curve in Material and Energy Balances Courses

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Focus on Entry Experiences in Chemical Engineering

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.286.1 - 22.286.7

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Paper Authors


Suzanne M. Kresta University of Alberta

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Suzanne Kresta is a Professor at the University of Alberta who has been teaching process analysis since 1994. During the last 15 years, her class sizes have doubled but the student performance on mastery of the material has improved. In 2011, the University recognized her work in this course with an Alexander Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.

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Inci Ayranci University of Alberta

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Inci Ayranci is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Alberta. As part of the Fraser & Shirley Russell Teaching Fellowship, she is teaching material and energy balances to second year students under the supervision of Dr. Suzanne Kresta.

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Bi-modal No More Shifting the Curve in Material and Energy Balances Courses Common wisdom states that a bi-modal distribution in process analysis is “normal”, with asignificant number of students needing to take the course twice before they “get” the material. Asclass sizes in second year chemical engineering at the University of Alberta have grown to over100 students, we took a hard look at the root causes of this distribution. The goal was toconsciously uncover and remove barriers to student learning which result in the “bi-modaldistribution”. The solutions include visual learning, experiential learning, industrial bestpractices and structured problem solving techniques which are now embedded in the course. Themodified teaching approach progresses in three stages: first, vocabulary building throughresearch on a specific process, through flowsheet construction, and problem statementdeconstruction; second, structured visual problem solving tools which are also the back bone ofindustrial best practice; third, active learning exercises throughout the course to pull outquestions and ensure that students are well prepared to tackle problems independently beforethey get stuck; fourth, problem solving groups which hand in their solutions together. Whilethere is still see a tail in our distributions, the lower hump in the curve has disappeared. This is aclear indication that we are reaching and helping students who previously were lost andbewildered, as well as improving the learning experience for all of the students in the class.These teaching methods take relatively little effort to implement in the classroom, and create adynamic learning environment based on interaction and critical thinking which is more fun toteach than the stress laden environment more typically associated with bimodal performance.

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