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Learning By Doing And Communications Within A Process Control Class

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

ChE: Innovation in Existing Courses

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.872.1 - 11.872.17



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Paper Authors


Richard Zollars Washington State University

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Dr. Zollars is a professor in, and director of, the School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at Washington State University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado. He has been teaching engineering for 27 years. His interests are colloidal/interfacial phenomena and reactor design.

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Jim Henry University of Tennessee-Chattanooga

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JIM HENRY (e-mail

Dr. Henry is a professor in the area of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University. He has been teaching engineering for 37 years. He is interested in laboratory development for improved learning.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Learning-by-doing and Communications within a Process Control Class


Providing realistic experiences for engineering students is complicated by a number of factors including a lack of equipment, technician support, and meaningful communication experiences to name a few. To overcome the first two factors computer simulations have been used but these are often lacking in the fullness of details that real systems provide. Meaningful communications are also difficult if there are no consequences tied to the effectiveness of the communication. Over the past four years we have been examining a number of approaches for using remotely located experiments to overcome these difficulties. More recently we have restructured our approach to also emphasize communications skills.

To provide the learning-by-doing experience we used the Green Engineering theme experiments of the on-line laboratory facilities at UTC. To emphasize the communications aspect, WSU students were paired with other WSU students for conducting experiments. By working with their classmates peer pressure is brought to bear to encourage full participation by all students in the activity.

The assignments divided into three parts: a data acquisition step, where the student had to request tests that characterized the system, a data analysis task, using data from the acquisition step, and a performance step, where the student had to instruct another student in order to obtain a specified performance for their system. While student’s prefer the easy route most of the students in this year’s group learned valuable lessons beyond just process control. It would appear that this is one of those situations where you may not like the approach but you realize that in the end it is good for you.


Providing hands-on, or learn-by-doing, experiences for engineering students is often complicated by either a lack of equipment, technician support, or both. Yet most topics in chemical engineering are best learned via a learn-by-doing approach. Computer simulations have been used in lieu of a truly hands-on experience but these are often lacking in the fullness of details that real systems provide. With the advent of high-speed Internet communications, an alternative approach to providing hands-on experiences has become possible – remote operation of real equipment. Both this group as well as faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge have demonstrated this1,2. Such remote operation experiences are fully learn-by-doing with nearly all the positive and negative aspects of true hands-on laboratory work. Such an approach can, however, be frustrating for students at the remote site if the equipment malfunctions.

Zollars, R., & Henry, J. (2006, June), Learning By Doing And Communications Within A Process Control Class Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--966

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