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Bringing Active Learning Into The Traditional Classroom: Teaching Process Control The Right Way

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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

3.126.1 - 3.126.9



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David E. Clough

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


Bringing Active Learning into the Traditional Classroom: Teaching Process Control The Right Way

David E. Clough University of Colorado


Since joining the faculty of Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado in 1975, I have taught the undergraduate course in process control 20 times. The course has always had a laboratory component, and, since 1994, this has been a full-featured 15-session laboratory. The classroom portion of the course was taught in a traditional lecture format until the Spring 1996 semester. In the past, the course has been well received by students and, generally, has been complimented by alumni, faculty peers, and practitioners. Still, the persistent difficulty experienced by students over the years in attempting to grasp the more challenging concepts of process control led me to try a different mode of instruction in 1996.

In the Spring semester of 1996, I converted the classroom component of the course to an active- learning format. This was facilitated by being able to teach the course in the Bechtel Active Learning Center of the Integrated Teaching & Learning Laboratory (ITLL), a new instructional facility in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado. In lieu of traditional lecture, I wrote over 40 active-learning workshops. Students are organized in groups at small conference tables. My instruction primarily consists of wandering the room, answering questions posed by the groups, and coaching. Only occasionally do I speak to the class as a whole. Conversion of the course has provided two important benefits: students were extremely positive about the learning environment and students grasped important, difficult concepts better than they had in previous years in the traditional lecture format. From my perspective, it is also important to note that, after all, it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.


One of the first AIChE National Meetings I attended was the annual meeting in Los Angeles in 1975. There was a session at that meeting that provided an overview and evaluation of the teaching of process control. This was particularly timely for me as I was about to teach process control for the first time in the Spring 1976 semester. The strongest message from the session was that students and control practitioners believed that the courses being taught, texts being used, etc., were far too abstract and disconnected from the reality of chemical process control. My prior experience had included several years at DuPont doing instrumentation and control work on numerous plant sites. One of the real attractions control always had for me was that it allowed for the bridge from the abstract to the concrete. Perhaps, the problem was rooted in that those teaching control had never done control.

Consequent to my experience at that AIChE meeting, I incorporated three laboratory exercises (instrument calibration, dynamic testing, controller tuning) into the control course I taught at the University of Colorado1, and I tended to choose text materials that had at least some practical

Clough, D. E. (1998, June), Bringing Active Learning Into The Traditional Classroom: Teaching Process Control The Right Way Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--6945

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