Virtual On line
June 22, 2020
June 22, 2020
June 26, 2021
An understanding of chemistry is critical for many engineering disciplines. Students taking an introductory environmental engineering course at the University of Wisconsin- Madison (with a typical cohort of 100 undergraduate students) have historically struggled to overcome cognitive and affective challenges related to chemistry. Analysis of historical data confirmed that many students were not able to master certain key chemistry concepts during the course. To improve attitudes towards chemistry and student performance on chemistry problems, we implemented a week-long case study on the Flint Water Crisis. The case study included short on-line videos related to the history of Flint, MI, and the chemistry of lead in distribution systems. The unit also included two lectures: one covering the chemistry and another telling the story of the crisis that unfolded after the water source was switched in Flint. Students used classroom response systems, concept maps, and minute-papers to engage with the material during lectures. We dedicated a 2-hour problem solving session for students to answer quantitative questions designed to assess learning gains. Students also completed a writing assignment to describe the chemistry behind the Flint water crisis and to suggest ways for preventing another “Flint” from occurring.
Based on student assessments of their learning gains (SALG), 98% of students reported good or great gains in their understanding of the Flint Water Crisis. Additionally, 78% of students reported that their understanding of chemistry improved (a fair amount or a great deal) and 75% of students reported that their attitudes towards chemistry improved (a fair amount or a great deal) because of the Flint Water Crisis Case Study. Student writing assignments demonstrated that they met learning outcomes related to the Flint Water Crisis and 91% of students responded that the writing assignment was beneficial to their learning (a fair amount or a great deal). We also compared the performance of the cohort that included the Flint Water Crisis Case Study to a cohort that did not include the case study. On final exam questions, students who were taught the Flint Water Crisis performed significantly better on an acid-base chemistry problem (p < 0.05). While the change in mean performance on a redox chemistry question was not significantly different, the number of students who performed poorly on the question decreased. Students also identified the components of the case study that they found to be most beneficial. Based on these results, we propose several modifications for teaching the Flint Water Crisis to future cohorts.
This study demonstrates that high-impact case studies can improve learning outcomes for engineering students. In our study, both cognitive and affective learning outcomes improved for chemistry-related outcomes in an introductory environmental engineering course. Furthermore, this study demonstrates that including writing assignments with case studies can benefit student learning. Case studies may be especially beneficial for motivating students to engage with and learn material that could otherwise be deemed as unimportant for their chosen field of study.
Scarborough, M. J., & McMahon, K. D. (2020, June), Overcoming Affective and Cognitive Chemistry Challenges in an Introductory Environmental Engineering Course Using a Flint Water Crisis Case Study Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35024
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