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Development and Implementation of Problem-based Chemistry Experiments for Engineering Students in a Multi-disciplinary Course

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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

Multidisciplinary Efforts in Introductory Courses

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Tiffany L. Hesser University of New Haven

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Tiffany Hesser is a Senior Lecturer in the Engineering and Applied Science Education Department and the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Department at the University of New Haven. With an M.S. in science education and an Ed.D. in educational leadership, her research efforts have been concentrated on technology integration, student learning with a strong focus on under-prepared student populations, and classroom design. She is the course coordinator for General Chemistry with Application to Biosystems in the Multidisciplinary Engineering Foundation Spiral Curriculum and is the Tagliatela College of Engineering Liaison for the Engineering and Science University Magnet School.

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Stefanie R. Bunyea MacDermid Enthone

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This paper will describe the development and implementation of five problem based laboratory experiments in a general chemistry course designed specifically for multiple disciplines of engineering students. Problem Based Laboratory Experiments (PBLE) were developed to provide first-year students with the opportunity to perform and design experimental procedures, while achieving a greater understanding of the role of chemistry in engineering fields.

In each PBLE, student teams first complete a traditional chemistry experiment to gain an understanding of the chemical concepts and familiarity with a procedural approach. Student teams are then presented with an engineering driven problem related to the chemical concepts. Students use knowledge obtained from the prior lab to design an experiment addressing the engineering problem.

In place of formal laboratory reports, students create technical memos that include their team recommendations or responses surrounding the presented problem. All recommendations are based on their devised experimental approach and the actual data that was obtained. Students are also required to complete an error analysis by considering changes to be made for better data acquisition or analysis, should the experiment be run again. The technical memos are graded against a defined rubric with a focus on the designed experimental approach, data presentation and recommendations based heavily upon these results. Grading is intended to allow students a level of academic freedom from right versus wrong answers, focusing instead on understanding the value of working with data obtained from an experimental process and making recommendation and future changes based upon results.

Student response to PBLE implementation was measured by examining self-reported levels of student engagement using a written survey. Survey questions were selected from the Survey of Students Engagement to provide a measurable assessment of student engagement at the classroom level with a focus on collaborative learning, cognitive development and personal skills development. This survey also provided a section for comparison to traditional chemical laboratory experiences and an opportunity for open responses regarding PBLEs.

The development of skills needed to implement an analytical process and solve problems is important to both chemists and engineers. PBLEs aim to bring students beyond following simple protocols, and encourage application of higher-level thinking and improve career-based skills such as teamwork, professional communication and technical presentation.

Hesser, T. L., & Bunyea, S. R. (2016, June), Development and Implementation of Problem-based Chemistry Experiments for Engineering Students in a Multi-disciplinary Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27293

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