Asee peer logo

Implementation and Usage of an Online Environment in a Chemical Engineering Curriculum

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Virtual and Web Learning in Chemical Engineering

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Kyle Joe Branch University of Utah

visit author page

Kyle Branch is a third-year graduate student at the University of Utah Department of Chemical Engineering. He has helped develop and teach two freshman courses, using the materials and methods described in this paper. His main research interest is in engineering education, focusing on the creation and analysis of interactive simulations for undergraduate chemical engineering courses.

visit author page


Anthony Butterfield University of Utah

visit author page

Anthony Butterfield is an Assistant Professor (Lecturing) in the Chemical Engineering Department of the University of Utah. He received his B. S. and Ph. D. from the University of Utah and a M. S. from the University of California, San Diego. His teaching responsibilities include the senior unit operations laboratory and freshman design laboratory. His research interests focus on undergraduate education, targeted drug delivery, photobioreactor design, and instrumentation.

visit author page

Download Paper |


We have developed an online system to serve as a hub for student activities in our chemical engineering courses. In addition to generating and grading textbook-style homework problems, it provides interactive simulations of laboratory experiments, and it administers surveys, pre- and post-tests, and quizzes for training on laboratory equipment. The system randomizes the numbers and units in homework problems and allows multiple attempts, which discourages cheating, removes the burden of manual grading for instructors, and provides students with instantaneous feedback. Students complete assignments using simulated laboratory experiments, which model corresponding hands-on projects that they will later work on in class. This is done to familiarize students with the project and core chemical engineering theory ahead of time, saving lab resources and time and enabling students to work at their own pace.

In order for students to become certified to use particular laboratory equipment, they must pass an online quiz on the safety and operating procedures of the equipment before training with an instructor. This saves instructor time and allows students to go back and review the material at any time. Students are able to print out their name badge from the site, which includes a list of all of the equipment they have been certified to use. This feature helps instructors learn the students’ names and allows instructors to easily check if students are certified to use specific equipment.

In analyzing data collected by the online system, we discovered differences in behavior between higher- and lower-performing students. Based on this information, we have offered our students advice on study habits that are associated with better performance. We have also used this data to identify and address common student misunderstandings.

We have also added game-like aspects to the system: as students progress through assignments and become certified to use laboratory equipment, they “gain experience” and “level up” on the website. Such techniques have been shown to increase student engagement. Since the addition of these features, we have observed students completing unassigned problems and trying to become trained on as much equipment as possible.

In order to ensure that the system is as easy to use as possible, we have made it open-source and freely accessible to instructors and students alike. Additionally, it is designed to work on all major browsers, enabling its use on all platforms and devices, without requiring the download or installation of any files.

Branch, K. J., & Butterfield, A. (2016, June), Implementation and Usage of an Online Environment in a Chemical Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25570

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015