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Capstone Design Projects: An Emphasis on Communication, Critical Thinking, and Analysis

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Chemical Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Taryn Melkus Bayles University of Pittsburgh

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Taryn Bayles, Ph.D., is a NTS Professor of Chemical Engineering in the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Department at the University of Pittsburgh, where she incorporates her industrial experience by bringing practical examples and interactive learning to help students understand fundamental engineering principles. Her current research focuses on engineering education, outreach and curriculum development.

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Our department has adopted the following Program Educational Objectives, such that within three to five years after graduation our graduates will have demonstrated Competency in the discipline of chemical engineering; exhibited Critical thinking ability that has enabled them to solve complex problems; successfully achieved Cooperation goals through teamwork; demonstrated effective Communication and will have exhibited the Capacity for life-long learning. With these objectives in mind, our undergraduates have a wide variety of experiences, which support student outcomes, which define the set of learning outcomes representing knowledge, skills, and behaviors students should possess by the time of graduation in order to achieve the Program Educational Objectives. One of our specific student outcomes is to solve and analyze open-ended problems and another is to engage in critical thinking by evaluating design solutions. With these outcomes in mind, in our capstone design I, students are required to design a process, which converts raw materials into a desired product. This process design is completed in teams of 4-5 students and each team designs a different process. The design assignment is split into different sections, which include; process synthesis and balances, equipment design, process simulation and process economics. In order to provide our students the opportunity to effectively communicate their work, critically analyze and critique open-ended designs, the projects are rotated between teams for each section of the design. For the final design, each team is returned their original design project and critiques to complete the final analysis. During the rotation of projects, the teams have the opportunity to evaluate one another’s work, integrate design reviews into their final analysis and learn by critically analyzing other projects. This is the second year of this approach to teaching out capstone design I class. This presentation will include specific details/examples of course/team logistics, team and individual assessment and direct assessment of learning objectives. The students are also surveyed, and comparisons will be made for students who have completed both capstone design courses with those who have only completed one capstone design course. In addition, qualitative data analysis software, NVivo will be used to aid in the analysis of the textual materials of the design project reports. Since each team works with and builds upon the work of two other teams, the software will be used to classify, sort and identify themes in student work in order to determine how the final design has evolved over the course of the semester long project. Specifically the software will allow comparisons across teams and design sections, organize and track the team’s work and will allow a qualitative analysis of the evolution of the final design. In addition, the technical evolution of the design will be quantified by examining the design changes in response to the critiques provided by the other teams.

Bayles, T. M. (2016, June), Capstone Design Projects: An Emphasis on Communication, Critical Thinking, and Analysis Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26445

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