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Maintaining Student Engagement in an Evening, Three-hour-long Air Pollution Course: Integrating Active Learning Exercises and Flipped Classes

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


Andrew Ross Pfluger P.E. Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Major Andrew Pfluger, U.S. Army, is a PhD Candidate at the Colorado School Mines studying anaerobic treatment of domestic wastewater. He previously earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from USMA and a M.S. and Engineer Degree in Environmental Engineering and Science from Stanford University. He is a licensed PE in the state of Delaware. Major Pfluger served as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the United States Military Academy from 2010-2013 and will return to West Point to serve as an Assistant Professor again upon completion of his PhD studies in 2018.

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Junko Munakata Marr Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Munakata Marr is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. Her research and teaching interests revolve primarily around microorganisms in engineered environmental systems, including biological wastewater treatment and methanogenesis from unconventional sources. She has nearly 20 years of experience in bioremediation. Other interests include sustainable water infrastructure, increasing diversity among STEM students and faculty, and sustainable community development.

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Maintaining student engagement for three consecutive hours during an evening lecture-based course that meets once per week can be challenging. With the objective of enhancing student engagement, we integrated active learning interventions and four flipped classes in the evening, three-hour long senior-level air pollution control course at the Colorado School of Mines. The active learning interventions and flipped classes were purposefully placed throughout the course such that students were exposed to approximately one intervention each week. Active learning interventions included small-group exercises, student teaching exercises, and video-followed-by-discussion exercises. The four classes we selected to flip covered the following topics: particulate matter problem-solving techniques, indoor air pollution in developing countries, acid rain sources and effects, and carbon dioxide capture, transport, and sequestration. Students were issued a blind mid-course survey (n = 16 respondents) and an end-of-course survey (n = 9 respondents) to assess how effective the active learning interventions and flipped classes were in maintaining student engagement and teaching lesson objectives. On average, students responded that active learning techniques and flipped classes aided their understanding and helped them stay engaged. Students were also asked to comment on several specific active learning interventions and on each of the four flipped classes. Results concerning specific active learning exercises and flipped classes varied, as students indicated that some interventions were useful, while others were not. Specifically, students felt that the flipped class concerning indoor air pollution in developing countries was effective in keeping them engaged and helping them learn lesson objectives, while activities such as “team teach” exercises, where a team of students, on rotation, briefly introduced selected topics to their peers, were less effective in helping them learn lesson objectives. While examining the effectiveness of these active learning interventions and flipped classes with an increased sample size over several years is likely needed to determine statistical significance, our experience indicates that choosing the appropriate classes to flip and suitable active learning interventions is challenging and selected interventions may not be immediately effective. Nevertheless, a variety of learning techniques is likely beneficial to maintain student engagement in a three-hour evening lecture course covering a highly technical topic such as air pollution control.

Pfluger, A. R., & Munakata Marr, J. (2017, June), Maintaining Student Engagement in an Evening, Three-hour-long Air Pollution Course: Integrating Active Learning Exercises and Flipped Classes Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28636

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