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Conducting Project-based Learning with a Large Chemical Engineering Freshman Cohort Using LEGO NXT Robotics

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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

Design, Creativity and Critical Thinking in the Chemical Engineering Curriculum

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.311.1 - 24.311.13



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Paper Authors


Bill B. Elmore Mississippi State University

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Bill B. Elmore currently holds the Hunter Henry Chair and Associate Directorship in the Swalm School of Chemical Engineering at Mississippi State University. In his twenty-fourth year of engineering education, Bill focuses on project-based learning at all levels of the undergraduate chemical engineering curriculum and undergraduate research in energy and micro-scale reactor studies.

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Conducting Project-based learning with a large chemical engineering freshman cohort using LEGO NXT robotics AbstractThe focus of this paper is the use of project-based learning in a freshman chemical engineeringstudio environment.Perhaps at no other time in a student’s academic career will you find such a high level ofanticipation for learning coupled with an equally high level of curiosity about their chosen fieldof study. The challenge presented is to capture and direct that eagerness for learning whilemotivating students to persevere through a coming tidal wave of challenging course content thatis virtually ceaseless over the course of the freshman year.Engaging chemical engineering freshmen in project-based learning brings decided advantages tothe first-year engineering experience when compared to the traditional “orientation” format.This paper reports on a first-year experience in chemical engineering using a series of project-based learning exercises integrating the LEGO™ NXT Robotics system coupled to Vernier®sensors and probes and “in house”-designed apparatus. Activities have been designed tointroduce students to a sequence of increasingly complex “team challenges” requiring studentteams to design, test and refine process controls systems for physical and chemical phenomenacommonly encountered in chemical engineering practice (e.g. level control, temperature control,reactor design and process economics).Now in its eighth iteration, the freshman course sequence herein reported engages a largefreshman cohort (~100+ students) in team-based, hands-on activities. Evidence suggestsstudents readily “latching onto” key concepts and various aspects of chemical engineeringthrough this “multi-modal” learning approach. Objectives of this method of program integrationinclude: 1) strengthened retention of freshmen in our chemical engineering program, 2) better“visualization” of chemical engineering concepts among chemical engineering freshmen(particularly the value and need for automated process controls and 3) a stronger sense of theapplication of STEM topics to the professional practice of chemical engineering.The paper will report on assessment activities directed at our freshman chemical engineeringstudents’ perceptions of impacts this project-based approach has made in their freshmanexperience and influences upon their self-efficacy for pursuing a career in chemical engineering.

Elmore, B. B. (2014, June), Conducting Project-based Learning with a Large Chemical Engineering Freshman Cohort Using LEGO NXT Robotics Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20202

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