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Problem Based Learning In A Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Laboratory

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.457.1 - 3.457.9

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Paper Authors

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Matthew J. Cline

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Gary J. Powers

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

Session 2530

Problem Based Learning in a Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Laboratory Matthew J. Cline, Gary J. Powers Department of Chemical Engineering Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, Pa. 15213-3890

Abstract We have recently revised our undergraduate chemical engineering laboratory curriculum, space, and equipment. Specifically, Problem-Based Learning (PBL) methods were applied to experiments. The decision to do so was a result of several motivating factors. Some of these factors were pedagogic in origin, others stemmed from our desire to add flexibility and variety to our experiments, and others were a response to ABET’s Engineering Criteria 2000. Our new focus combined previous efforts in engineering science fundamentals with open-ended and economically driven problems. These problems aimed to enhance student learning while developing interpersonal, problem solving, learning, and communication skills. PBL and our expanded expectations resulted in improved behavioral and skill outcomes. We argue that the Problem-Based approach was particularly well suited to laboratory application and should be considered as a model for replacing traditional laboratory methods. This paper presents preliminary results in the form of our observations, shares some perceived issues regarding the implementation of PBL, and discusses student reactions to a PBL course. In short, this paper offers an evaluation of the learning outcomes achieved and presents some insights gained by our experience.

Introduction Historically, the educational goals of our laboratory focused on having students employ and verify theory learned in core courses. Feedback from our alumni indicated they appreciated the strong fundamentals that our laboratory instruction helped them learn. However, both alumni and ABETi seem to agree that new industrial processes and the modern work environment demand that students should be able to apply fundamentals to a wide variety of problems. Further, graduating students must be skilled communicators, possess strong problem-solving skills, have the ability to design systems and experiments to meet given needs, and should understand the context in which their work will be practiced. One question that arises from these desired outcomes is “How will all of this be accomplished most effectively?” Moreover, concern existed over whether explicitly teaching these skills would come at the cost of sacrificing technical material. One step we have taken toward achieving these outcomes was to amend the educational philosophy, objectives, and pedagogy of the lab courses. The goal is now for students to develop desired skills while reinforcing fundamental knowledge. Specifically, we have implemented Problem-Based Learning in order to foster specific behaviors. Students worked on open-ended problems in the laboratory courses and gained desired skills by:

Cline, M. J., & Powers, G. J. (1998, June), Problem Based Learning In A Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Laboratory Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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