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Consequential Agency in Chemical Engineering Laboratory Courses

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Assessment in Chemical Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is an associate professor at the University of New Mexico (UNM) with appointments in learning sciences and engineering. Her research, funded by an NSF CAREER award, focuses on how people learn as they frame problems and how these activities relate to identity, agency and creativity.

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Stephanie Wettstein Montana State University - Bozeman

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Associate Professor

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Jennifer Brown Montana State University - Bozeman

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Jennifer Brown is an Associate Professor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at Montana State University. She is an affiliate of the Montana Engineering Education Research Center (MEERC) and has interests ranging from technical communication instruction for engineering students to mentorship and contemplative pedagogy.

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Eva Chi University of New Mexico


Madalyn Wilson-Fetrow University of New Mexico

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I am a graduate student at the University of New Mexico in learning sciences with a background in materials engineering and in chemistry and an interest in STEM education and informal learning and agency

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In contrast to the dynamic treatment of other aspects of the curriculum, and despite being at the center of chemical engineering education, laboratory experiments have remained largely unchanged for decades. To characterize the potential impact changes to laboratory courses could have, we explored student perceptions across a department and characterized the kinds of opportunities students have to use their agency in these courses across universities. We used a survey to measure students’ sense of agency across several laboratory courses in a chemical engineering department. We found students in laboratory courses across the chemical engineering laboratory sequence, including those engaged in authentic course-based research did not perceive the experiments as agentive or authentic. We infer students draw upon abundant low-agency experiences in laboratory experiments. We report on the agency that instructors report students possessing across two chemical engineering departments to understand variation across institutions. Maximizing learning in laboratory courses may hinge on clearer communication about authentic experiments or systematic redesign of earlier courses.

Svihla, V., & Wettstein, S., & Brown, J., & Chi, E., & Wilson-Fetrow, M. (2022, August), Consequential Agency in Chemical Engineering Laboratory Courses Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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