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Open-Ended Experiential Learning Opportunities in the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Laboratory: A Qualitative Research Study

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Chemical Engineering Division (ChED) Technical Session 9: Student Experiences in Laboratory Courses

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering Division (ChED)

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Paper Authors


Erick S. Vasquez University of Dayton

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Erick S. Vasquez is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Dayton. He received his B.Eng. in Chemical Engineering at UCA in El Salvador. He obtained his M.S. from Clemson University and his Ph.D. from Mississippi State University, both in Chemical Engineering. His laboratory research involves nanotechnology in chemical and biological processes. His educational research interests are community-based learning, open-ended laboratory experiments, teamwork, collaborative and active learning, and Transport Phenomena computational modeling.

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Kelly Bohrer University of Dayton

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Kelly Bohrer is the Executive Director of the ETHOS Center, a community engagement center connecting students, faculty, and staff with NGO’s around the world for technical projects as part of immersions, teaching, and scholarly activity. She also is th

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Matthew Dewitt University of Dayton

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Matthew DeWitt is a Distinguished Research Engineer at the University of Dayton Research Institute. He received his B.S. in chemical engineering from The Ohio State University and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Northwestern University. His resea

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Soubantika Palchoudhury

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Over the past few years, senior-level chemical engineering students in the Unit Operations laboratory at the University of Dayton have obtained unique experiences performing open-ended experiments emphasizing experiential learning theory (ELT) aspects. During the last six weeks of the semester, students conduct a final project where they define an objective and propose a methodology for a more advanced study than required in the earlier portion of the course. The authors (instructors of the course) provide (1) ideas for experimental topics of interest which are applicable to chemical engineering students, 2) focused research opportunities with faculty members or local entrepreneurs and businesses, and 3) community-based learning experiences with the ETHOS center at the University of Dayton. Once the instructor approves a student-centered experiential learning project, the students define the specific objectives, perform experiments or simulations, and summarize the analysis and findings in a final technical report or memorandum. After submitting the final report, students also provide a written reflection of their work and learning experience. In the most recent academic semester, various open-ended topics were made available to the students, including coffee-processing-related unit operations, environmentally sustainable biodigesters, and kombucha fermentation. This paper highlights open-ended experiential learning final project opportunities (n = 6) in the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations laboratory, provided to 16 teams of 3 - 4 students per team (n = 53). We discuss the instructors' observations and perspectives and a summary of students' written reflections. The authors performed qualitative assessments using coding and thematic analysis on the students' team-written reflections. Four central student themes emerged: cognitive, affective, relational, and pedagogical. The authors also summarize their findings and provide perspectives for open-ended, experiential learning opportunities in Chemical Engineering laboratory-based courses. Overall, the qualitative analysis indicated the teams enjoyed the opportunity to select an open-ended project and the independence, autonomy, and control over the experiment stage. These results confirmed the student-centered approach in experiential learning projects for the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations laboratory previously attained in other STEM-related courses

Vasquez, E. S., & Bohrer, K., & Dewitt, M., & Palchoudhury, S. (2023, June), Open-Ended Experiential Learning Opportunities in the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Laboratory: A Qualitative Research Study Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--43790

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