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Improving Student Interaction with Chemical Engineering Learning Tools: Screencasts and Simulations

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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

Virtual and Online Learning Tools in Chemical Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.720.1 - 24.720.8



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Paper Authors


Garret Nicodemus University of Colorado, Boulder

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Senior researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Received PhD in Chemical & Biological Engineering at CU Boulder in 2009 and B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Lafayette College in 2004. Has taught Material & Energy Balances, Fluid Mechanics, Separations and Mass Transfer, and Senior Process Design.

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John L. Falconer University of Colorado, Boulder

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John L. Falconer is the Mel and Virginia Clark Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and a President's Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado Boulder. He has published more than 225 papers and has 12 patents in the areas of zeolite membranes, heterogeneous catalysis, photocatalysis, and atomic and molecular deposition. He has directed the effort at the University of Colorado to prepare screencasts, ConcepTests, and interactive simulations for chemical engineering courses (

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Will Medlin University of Colorado, Boulder

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J. Will Medlin is an associate professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the ConocoPhillips Faculty Fellow at the University of Colorado. He teaches courses in kinetics, thermodynamics, and material and energy balances. His research interests are in the area of surface science and heterogeneous catalysis.

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Katherine Page McDanel University of Colorado, Boulder, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering


Jeffrey Steven Knutsen University of Colorado, Boulder, Department of Mechanical Engineering,

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My interests focus primarily on the implementation of novel teaching strategies in the classroom, especially the use of electronic resources such as concept tests, screencasts, and the use of a tablet computer to facilitate a more dynamic presentation of course material. I am currently developing a number of screencasts to eventually facilitate a "flipped classroom" that moves lectures outside the classroom via a series of short videos. Class time is then available for more valuable activities such as discussions of conceptual questions, workshops, and projects. I am especially interested in promoting more open-ended problems, which better approximate engineering challenges that extend beyond the classroom environment. Thus far my favorite courses include Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer, Thermodynamics, Dynamics, and Design.

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Improving Student Interaction with Chemical Engineering Learning Tools: Screencasts and SimulationsChemical & biological engineering faculty have developed over 950 screencasts covering topicsin chemical engineering courses. Screencasts are short videos (typically less than 10 minutes)with narration and are made by digital capture of a tablet PC screen. Screencasts can introduce atopic, solve an example problem, explain a concept, explain a diagram and process, demonstratesoftware use, review for an exam, or present a mini-lecture. They can be used in combinationwith textbooks, online reading quizzes, homework assignments, and office hours. Thispersonalized method of learning empowers students by giving them control over the rate ofinformation delivery and when they receive information. As of October 2013, these videos hadbeen watched/downloaded over 2.7 million times and have an overwhelmingly positive responsefrom students in our classes and as seen through YouTube comments.Although many screencasts demonstrate problem solving skills and suggest students attempt tosolve the problems on their own before watching the step-by-step solutions, they areunidirectional in their information delivery. Without student comments, we are unable todetermine student misconceptions and issues with the materials. This became the motivation tocreate interactive screencasts. Interactive screencasts start by posing a conceptual question thatis followed by embedded video links to video responses based on the answers chosen (see figureon next page). If a student clicks on a wrong answer, they are led to a video explaining why theiranswer is wrong and then asked to choose another answer. This continues until the correctanswer is chosen and the video solution is revealed. These screencasts provide a significantadvantage over textbook examples since they require the student to answer the question withoutbeing able to look at the solution. Students have been tremendously excited about these videosand have used them to “test themselves” after classes and prior to exams. Analytics also enableus to track how answers are being chosen, thus aiding our efforts to identify confusing concepts.Another effort to improve student interaction involves hands on computer simulations. We areusing Mathematica based simulations (see figure on next page) to enhance student learning andbetter connect conceptual mastery with physical modeling of systems. These simulations allowsusers to manually control variables and almost instantly visualize the effects on the systembehavior. This provides a useful resource for promoting student interaction during assignmentsand supporting in class questioning where students are asked to predict system outcomes. Thereis a growing library of chemical engineering simulations at the Wolfram Demonstrations Project.We have also begun developing our own simulations and screencasts that explain their use.We will present on these resources and how to use them to improve student interaction andactive learning methods within chemical engineering classes. We would like to participate in aregular oral session to showcase some of these materials. If not available, we would not beopposed to presenting a poster.At the end of a short presentation of the question, the video pops up answers that have embeddedlinks. The boxes around the answers indicate “hotspots” that are clickable. Each link opens up aseparate video.Wolfram Demonstrations Project Simulation: Multiple steady-states in continuous culture withsubstrate inhibition. Sliders and output buttons control how resulting analysis is presented.

Nicodemus, G., & Falconer, J. L., & Medlin, W., & McDanel, K. P., & Knutsen, J. S. (2014, June), Improving Student Interaction with Chemical Engineering Learning Tools: Screencasts and Simulations Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20612

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