June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.1018.1 - 15.1018.17
Reconnecting Chemical Engineering Students with the Physical World
There is ample evidence of a growing disconnect between chemical engineering students and the physical world. This chasm is being created by social and technological changes; in particular, the proliferation of microprocessor-based “virtual experiences” for children and adolescents has had an inhibiting effect upon their opportunities to explore forces, causal factors, and effects in the real world. Diminished opportunity to physically experience produces diminished ability to perceive. One predictable result is that students in engineering and the applied sciences struggle to critically evaluate their work in problem-solving exercises.
We made initial efforts to address this problem in 2006 and 2009, when we implemented (on a trial basis) a large-scale field experience in which students used a centrifugal pump (with a 5.5 hp gasoline engine) to fill a 325 gallon polyethylene tank. They also explored the discharge velocities achieved by this pump through nozzles with diameters ranging from 0.453” to 1.055”. The success of this activity led us to undertake some significant changes in our undergraduate laboratory experience. In 2010 we added three completely new experiments to the course; these activities (a student-directed experiment with thermoelectricity, a pump performance module, and a fluid flow experiment of unparalleled flexibility) were designed to encourage exploration, to appeal to students with different learning styles, and to promote physical contact between the student and the underlying phenomena. This paper describes our initial experiences with, student reaction to, and our assessment of, these changes to the laboratory course.
The childhood environment for the previous generation of engineers was very different. Grose1 recently reviewed the formative influences upon six accomplished engineering educators; he found active childhood pursuits in airplanes, chemistry sets, dissection equipment, farm equipment, and electronics. These activities are lost to today’s children; the proliferation of microprocessor-based “virtual experiences” for children and adolescents has had an inhibiting effect upon their opportunities to explore forces, causal relationships, and effects in the real world. Indeed, many of the play activities of children of the 21st century are incomprehensible to previous generations. Diminished opportunity to physically experience produces diminished ability to perceive, and in engineering and the applied sciences the consequences can be catastrophic. Zaslow2 (Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2005) described the insidious nature of this development when he observed that “…technology has exacerbated the gulf between
Glasgow, L., & Soldan, D. (2010, June), Reconnecting Chemical Engineering Students With The Physical World Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15799
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