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Techno-economic Modeling as an Inquiry-based Design Activity in a Core Chemical Engineering Course

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Computer-Based Learning in Chemical Engineering Courses

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Jamie Gomez University of New Mexico

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Jamie Gomez, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer III in the department of Chemical & Biological Engineering (CBE) at the University of New Mexico. She is a co- principal investigator for the following National Science Foundation (NSF) funded projects: Professional Formation of Engineers: Research Initiation in Engineering Formation (PFE: RIEF) - Using Digital Badging and Design Challenge Modules to Develop Professional Identity; Professional Formation of Engineers: REvolutionizing engineering and computer science Departments (IUSE PFE\RED) - Formation of Accomplished Chemical Engineers for Transforming Society. She is a member of the CBE department’s ABET and Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, as well as faculty advisor for several student societies. She is the instructor of several courses in the CBE curriculum including the Material and Energy Balances, junior laboratories and Capstone Design courses. She is associated with several professional organizations including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and American Society of Chemical Engineering Education (ASEE) where she adopts and contributes to innovative pedagogical methods aimed at improving student learning and retention.

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Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist and associate professor at the University of New Mexico in the Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program and in the Chemical & Biological Engineering Department. She served as Co-PI on an NSF RET Grant and a USDA NIFA grant, and is currently co-PI on three NSF-funded projects in engineering and computer science education, including a Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project. She was selected as a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow and a 2018 NSF CAREER awardee in engineering education research. Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions; this includes a two-strand research program focused on (1) authentic assessment, often aided by interactive technology, and (2) design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn.

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Authentic engineering practice is often introduced to students through engineering problem-solving in the classroom. These problems usually have a single, correct answer and fail to guide students’ problem framing against real-world parameters and constraints. In this paper, we present techno-economic modeling as a computer-based pedagogical tool in a sophomore chemical engineering course to connect students’ collective inquiry activities to real-world consequences. Engaging in inquiry with an interactive process modeling tool can help students frame engineering design problems by directing them to explore and consider specific details and how these relate to real problems. This work aligns well with inquiry-based approaches [1] and extends previous work, which focused on students’ exposure to uncertainties in engineering design [2]. We conducted a study to illustrate how a techno-economic modeling tool can be used to enhance engineering reasoning within a collaborative environment. We aimed to answer the following research question: How might techno-economic modeling enhance students’ ability to empathize with the communities for which they design? An algae biofuel design challenge was embedded into the sophomore material and energy balances course (n=75 in 10 teams) at a Hispanic-serving research university in the Southwest US. Wikis were used as a supporting collaborative tool for students to visually and textually report their knowledge and decisions on the three design phases (growth of algal species, harvesting algae from water and extraction of oil from algae) of the challenge. Each team was assigned to investigate the economic feasibility of algal biofuel plant in a specific county. An open coding scheme was developed and used to analyze each teams' work on the economic feasibility of the algae biofuel plant. Descriptive statistics were also used to examine the data collected. Analyses revealed that all student teams investigated the effect of constraints, such as population size and resource availability on design parameters like the choice of carbon dioxide source and biofuel production rate. Teams used cost and environmental impact as critical decision criteria to make informed decisions about the various process technologies. Additionally, we found teams to be attentive to decisions that could adversely affect a community. We found the economic modeling supported the students to engage in design decision making akin to the professional practices of real-life engineers. 1. McElhaney, K.W., Chang, H.-Y. Chiu, J. L., Linn, M.C. (2015) Evidence for effective uses of dynamic visualisations in science curriculum materials, Studies in Science Education. 51:1.49-85

Gomez, J., & Svihla, V. (2019, June), Techno-economic Modeling as an Inquiry-based Design Activity in a Core Chemical Engineering Course Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33361

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