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Competitive Problem-Based Learning in an Environmental Engineering Laboratory Course

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Problem- Project- and Case-Based Learning in Environmental Engineering

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.304.1 - 24.304.14



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Paper Authors


Andrew Jason Hill University of Southern Indiana

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Jason Hill is an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Southern Indiana. He holds B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in civil engineering from Tennessee Technological University. His research interests include rainfall-runoff modeling and wetland hydrology.

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Zane W. Mitchell Jr. University of Southern Indiana

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Dr. Zane Mitchell is the chairman of the department of engineering at the University of Southern Indiana. Dr. Mitchell earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in civil engineering from Virginia Tech. He also holds an M.B.A. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He earned his B.S. in civil engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and served for 26 years in the USAF. Dr. Mitchell is a registered Professional Engineer, a LEED AP BD+C, and a project management professional.

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Competitive Problem Based Learning in an Environmental Engineering Laboratory CourseAbstractThe Problem-based learning (PBL) pedagogical approach to instruction has become widely usedin engineering courses. This paper describes implementation of the PBL approach to anenvironmental engineering laboratory course. The course serves as an elective option forstudents pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree (BSE). Learning experimentalmeasurement procedures for constituents in water and wastewater has traditionally been thefocus of laboratory investigations in this course. The PBL approach was used for the laboratorycomponent to provide an applied context to traditional experiments implemented in this course.Two problems were defined and used to motivate the design of weekly laboratory sessions. Thefirst problem was to design a treatment system to produce drinking water from river water.Laboratory sessions were used to conduct a variety of relevant water quality tests and examinedifferent treatment methods. Relevant drinking water regulations were presented to provide atreatment goal. A water treatment competition was designed to provide a creative outlet forpresenting the final treatment schemes. The competition required each team to integrateexperience from previous laboratory sessions. Each team was scored based on the quality of thetreated water, efficiency of treatment, experimental techniques, and the final design report. Thesecond problem concerned evaluating the performance of an activated sludge wastewatertreatment plant. Students visited a local plant and obtained samples for testing. Both problemsrequired extensive use of traditional experimental procedures and reinforced many of the courselecture topics. Students were required to maintain a laboratory notebook and submit two reportsdetailing the two problem solutions. The PBL approach was implemented in lecture using aseries of class problem set packets. Interactive problem solving sessions were conducted tosolve the problems with short periods of traditional lecture interjected as needed. Lecturematerial was introduced as needed to solve the problem sets. Student feedback regarding thelecture and laboratory components of the course was very positive. Student performance on 15learning outcomes was assessed using both direct (composite scores derived from graded examand homework problems) and indirect (student survey) methods. All student survey scores forthe learning outcomes were above 80% and composite scores were within 10% of the studentsurvey values. Advantages of this approach include greater connectivity between lecture andlaboratory topics and a greater focus on experimental design, a requirement of ABET outcome3b.

Hill, A. J., & Mitchell, Z. W. (2014, June), Competitive Problem-Based Learning in an Environmental Engineering Laboratory Course Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20195

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