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Teaching Concepts On Softening: Observations From Active Versus Passive Instruction In An Undergraduate And A Graduate Level Course

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Innovative Teaching Methods

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1204.1 - 11.1204.12



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Paper Authors

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Cyndee Gruden University of Toledo

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Defne Apul University of Toledo

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Maria Diaz University of Toledo

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

Teaching concepts on softening: Observations from active versus passive instruction in an undergraduate and a graduate level course Introduction

Currently, engineering course content is a delicate balance between theory, problem-based learning, and hands-on experience. Controversy continues to exist regarding the merits of teaching mostly theory as opposed to incorporating significant amounts of problem-based and hands on strategies. However, most instructors concede that changes to traditional lecture-based courses are required to appeal to a student population with a wide variety of learning styles. The different ways that students receive and process information have been described in a variety of learning style models. In an effort to increase retention of engineering students and to appeal to a broader array of students, many engineering curriculums are being designed to address these models by incorporating active instructional methods.

This manuscript summarizes the experience of implementing active instructional techniques (including collaborative learning) in two courses being taught in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Toledo, an undergraduate water treatment course and a graduate level environmental chemistry course. Modifications to teaching strategies were made in an effort to improve student learning of and attitudes toward applied aquatic chemistry, specifically precipitative softening. In addition, the instructors were interested in determining student response toward active learning by comparing the experience in a graduate and an undergraduate course. Finally, instructors were interested in determining if learning outcomes of students involved in active learning would be markedly improved after only one class period as compared to students who were taught the same basic information in a passive lecture. Classroom assessment techniques included a background knowledge probe (pre-assessment), teacher designed feedback forms (post-assessment), teacher observation, and student performance on subsequent exams.


Precipitative softening is used by many water treatment facilities in the United States to address hard water issues, which can result in clogged water transmission lines, shortened life of heaters and boilers, and poor lathering of water. Hard water is caused by an abundance of minerals in source waters, specifically polyvalent cations such as calcium (Ca) and Magnesium (Mg). Hard water is the most common water quality problem reported by US consumers, and it is typically attributed to ground water sources with high mineral content 1. In the Midwest, water softening is a locally relevant issue since many of us live in individual homes and communities with groundwater sources that require softening. This concept is typically taught in undergraduate courses that focus on water supply and treatment as well as graduate courses that focus on applied environmental chemistry. Many undergraduates in civil engineering departments express both apprehension and discomfort with learning principles of chemistry. It was anticipated that incorporating active learning techniques would result in improved learning outcomes for students in both the graduate and undergraduate courses.

Gruden, C., & Apul, D., & Diaz, M. (2006, June), Teaching Concepts On Softening: Observations From Active Versus Passive Instruction In An Undergraduate And A Graduate Level Course Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--519

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