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Development of a Concept Inventory for Introductory Environmental Engineering Courses

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Environmental engineering pedagogy and innovation

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.412.1 - 23.412.10



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Paper Authors

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Sukalyan Sengupta University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth


Jeffrey A Cunningham University of South Florida

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Dr Jeffrey Cunningham is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida (USF). Dr Cunningham’s research and teaching interests are related to the fate, transport, and remediation of contaminants in the environment. His current students are working on projects related to the clean-up of soil contaminated by hazardous chemicals, the fate of trace organic contaminants during reclamation of treated municipal wastewater, and the storage of carbon dioxide in deep saline aquifers as a method of mitigating global climate change. Several previous research projects focused on the transport and biodegradation of hazardous chemicals in groundwater. Dr Cunningham regularly teaches an introductory Environmental Engineering class for undergraduate Civil Engineering students, as well as graduate classes on physical and chemical processes in natural and engineered environmental systems. Dr Cunningham earned his BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Rice University, his MS degree in Civil Engineering from Stanford University, and his PhD in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Stanford University. He has authored or co-authored nearly thirty papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals. When not at work, he enjoys spending time with his family and watching baseball.

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Sarina J. Ergas University of South Florida

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Dr. Ergas is a professor and graduate program coordinator in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida. She received a BS in Environmental Engineering from Humboldt State University and MS and PhD degrees from the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on environmental biotechnology, including wastewater treatment and bioremediation. She was a 2007 Fulbright Fellow at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and a 1995 ASCE Excellence in Civil Engineering Education (ExCEEd) Fellow. She teaches classes in Biological Principles, Air Pollution Control and Environmental/Water Resources Capstone Design. Dr. Ergas is a registered professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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Ramesh K. Goel University of Utah

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Dilek Ozalp University of South Florida

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Teri Kristine Reed Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Development of a Concept Inventory for Introductory Environmental Engineering CoursesNearly all university curricula in Civil Engineering and/or Environmental Engineering include anintroductory course in Environmental Engineering. Here we refer to such introductory coursesas Fundamentals of Environmental Engineering (FEE). There are currently no validated andreliable instruments for assessing students’ comprehension of core concepts associated with FEE.Such an instrument would be useful in assessing whether different teaching approaches(laboratory projects, classroom format, curricular ordering, etc.) improve students’ conceptualunderstanding of FEE material. It also could play an important role in assessment forprogrammatic accreditation through ABET.Therefore, in this project, we aim to develop a Fundamentals of Environmental EngineeringConcept Inventory (FEECI), and to test the FEECI at ten US engineering undergraduateprograms with required undergraduate FEE courses. The FEECI will take the form of amultiple-choice test that emphasizes conceptual understanding of environmental engineeringfundamentals as opposed to rote problem-solving. Carefully formulated incorrect answers(“distracters”) will be used to capture common student misconceptions. The FEECI will bemodeled after existing concept inventories that have been developed for other subjects, includingchemistry, thermodynamics, and engineering mechanics.To develop the FEECI, we first reviewed existing text books and syllabi to identify key topics inFEE courses (e.g., environmental biology, environmental chemistry). Then, a panel of experts(13 professors from departments of Civil Engineering or Environmental Engineering whoroutinely teach an FEE course) identified key concepts (e.g., biochemical oxygen demand,reaction kinetics) within each of the topics. Next, the panel of experts and a group of studentswere surveyed to identify which of those concepts were viewed as both important and difficultfor students to learn. The expert panel survey was conducted iteratively as a Delphi study. Fromthe results of the Delphi study and the student surveys, eight concepts were ultimately identifiedfor inclusion in the first version of the FEECI. Currently, we are developing open-endedquestions related to those concepts that will be administered to a group of student volunteers.Student answers to the open-ended questions will be used to refine the questions and to developappropriate distracters for inclusion in the first version of the FEECI.

Sengupta, S., & Cunningham, J. A., & Ergas, S. J., & Goel, R. K., & Ozalp, D., & Reed, T. K. (2013, June), Development of a Concept Inventory for Introductory Environmental Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19426

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