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Redesigning the First Course of Thermodynamics to Improve Student Conceptualization and Application of Entropy and Second Law Concepts

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids, and Heat Transfer I

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1033.1 - 24.1033.17



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Paper Authors


Timothy J. Jacobs Texas A&M University

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Dr. Jacobs is associate professor and undergraduate program coordinator at Texas A&M University Department of Mechanical Engineering. His primary teaching interests are thermodynamics and internal combustion engines. Similarly, his research interests center on thermodynamics, performance, efficiency, and emissions of internal combustion engines. Dr. Jacobs received his Ph.D (2005), MS (2002), and BSE (1999) from University of Michigan and began his faculty position at Texas A&M in 2006.

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Jerald A. Caton Texas A&M University


Jeffrey E. Froyd Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jeffrey E. Froyd received the B.S. degree in mathematics from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. He is a TEES Research Professor in the Office of Engineering Academic and Student Affairs at Texas A&M University, College Station. He has been an Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He served as Project Director for the Foundation Coalition, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Engineering Education Coalition in which six institutions systematically renewed, assessed, and institutionalized innovative undergraduate engineering curricula. At Rose-Hulman, he co-created the Integrated, First-Year Curriculum in Science, Engineering and Mathematics, which was recognized in 1997 with a Hesburgh Award Certificate of Excellence. He has authored over 70 papers on faculty development, curricular change processes, curriculum redesign, and assessment. Prof. Froyd is a Fellow of IEEE, a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), an ABET Program Evaluator, the Editor-in-Chief for the IEEE Transactions on Education, and a Senior Associate Editor for the Journal of Engineering Education. He has served as a program co-chair for three Frontiers in Education Conferences and the general chair for the 2009 conference.

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Kumbakonam Ramamani Rajagopal Texas A&M University

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Dr. Rajagopal is currently a Distingnished Professor and Regents Professor at Texas A&M Uniersity. He holds the Forsyth Chair in Mechanical Engineering and holds joint appointments in the departments of Mathematics, Biomedical Engineering, Civil Engineering and Chemical Engineering. He is also a Senior Researeh Scientist at the Texas Transportation Institute. Prof. Rajagopal obtained an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, a M. S. in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from the lllinois Institute of Technology and a Ph.D in Mechanics from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.He has received the Archie Higdon
Award from the American Society of Engineering Education.

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Paper Title: Redesigning the First Course of Thermodynamics to Improve StudentConceptualization and Application of Entropy and Second Law ConceptsJournal / Conference: ASEE ConferenceAuthors: T. Jacobs, J. Caton, J. Froyd, K. Rajagopal (Texas A&M University, College Station,Texas)Objective of Effort / Study: Improve student conceptualization and application of entropy andsecond law concepts and their role on energy conversion.Objectives of Paper:1) Highlight the need to improve FTC to center student learning on entropy and its relationshipto energy / exergy.2) Describe the modifications made to TAMU’s FTC (MEEN 315) in terms of: a) Course content redesign (general to specific course organization) b) Earlier and persistent discussion of entropy c) Introduction of exergy and its relationship to entropy and energy.3) Quantify the impact of the modificationsProposed Abstract:The first course on thermodynamics (FTC), as taught in most mechanical engineeringdisciplines, typically follows a standard topical progression: properties of substances, first lawconcepts of closed systems, first law concepts of open systems, second law concepts, and cycles.Students often struggle with some concepts in courses that follow such a presentation. First,introduction of second law concepts late in the course leaves less time for students to applysecond law concepts; student understanding of such likely suffers. Second, the flow of materialgoes from “specific” (closed system analysis) to “general” (open system analysis), which delaysopportunities for students to use assumptions to develop simplified models that can be analyzed.Third, disconnects between entropy and energy prevent students from recognizing the “value” orquality of energy and why energy has different “forms” (e.g., thermal, mechanical, andchemical). This paper describes a course redesign with the following objective: improve studentknowledge and application of entropy and second law concepts, and the role second lawconcepts have on energy conversion, by integrating second law concepts and entropy throughoutthe course. The redesigned course was first taught in Fall 2012 and has been taught three times.In addition to describing the course redesign, the paper uses a newly designed concept inventoryto assess conceptual growth of students in the redesigned course.Proposed Outline:I. AbstractII. Introduction a. Motivation b. Background c. Objective(s)III. Current Course OrganizationIV. Redesigned Course OrganizationV. Evidence of Improved Student LearningVI. ConclusionsVII. Acknowledgements (NSF, Advisory Panel, others)

Jacobs, T. J., & Caton, J. A., & Froyd, J. E., & Rajagopal, K. R. (2014, June), Redesigning the First Course of Thermodynamics to Improve Student Conceptualization and Application of Entropy and Second Law Concepts Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22966

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