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The Effect of Inquiry-Based Activities and Prior Knowledge on Undergraduates' Understanding of Reversibility

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Grasping the "Concept"

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1191.1 - 23.1191.19



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Paper Authors


Katharyn E. K. Nottis Bucknell University

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Dr. Nottis is an Educational Psychologist and Professor of Education at Bucknell University. Her research has primarily concentrated on meaningful learning in science and engineering education from the perspective of Human Constructivism. She has authored publications and done presentations on the generation of analogies, misconceptions, and learning science and engineering concepts. She is committed to collaborative research projects, finding them a stimulating way to approach the complex problems in teaching and learning today. She has partnered with researchers in chemistry, chemical engineering, astronomy, and seismology.

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Margot A Vigeant Bucknell University

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Dr. Margot Vigeant is an associate professor of chemical engineering and associate dean of engineering. She is interested in chemical engineering pedagogy, first-year programs, and international education.

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Michael J. Prince Bucknell University


Ana Gabriela Aguilera Silva Bucknell University

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Ana Gabriela Aguilera Silva ´14 is a currently an undergraduate at Bucknell University. She is studying Educational Research, International Relations and Economics. She has presented the in Sigma Xi Summer Student Research at Bucknell University and the Susquehanna Valley Undergraduate Research Conference sponsored by Geisinger Medical Center. She hopes to continue pursuing research in her professional endeavors.

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The Effect of Inquiry-Based Activities and Prior Knowledge on Undergraduates’ Understanding of ReversibilityThis NSF funded (DUE 0717536) study investigates the role of prior knowledge and the use ofinquiry-based activities and their method of implementation to reduce misconceptions in five keyareas of thermodynamics (Entropy, Reversibility, Equilibrium and Steady State, Internal Energy,and Enthalpy), with a more detailed focus on reversibility. There is documented evidence ofproblems understanding heat, temperature, and energy concepts. Even after instruction,undergraduate engineering students have been found to still hold misconceptions aboutthermodynamic concepts. Previous research has shown that it is difficult to repair thesemisconceptions using a lecture-based pedagogy. One promising approach is the use of inquiry-based activities however; the way these activities are implemented can impact outcomes andprevious research has shown that faculty does not always implement activities as they areinstructed. The prior knowledge students bring to the classroom can also represent a challengewhen trying to alter these misconceptions. It would be anticipated from research that studentswith some prior knowledge from other engineering courses should have a better understanding ofthermodynamic concepts.A quasi-experimental design was used to analyze pre-post data from 26 different undergraduate,thermodynamics classes from multiple institutions, some who used a series of inquiry-basedactivities in each key concept area as part of their instruction and some who did not. Those usingthe inquiry-based activities were given a set of two activities along with worksheets andexplanatory materials for each of the five concept areas where misconceptions had previouslybeen identified, including reversibility. The Concept Inventory for EngineeringThermodynamics (CIET) and its Reversibility sub-test were used to measure conceptual change.Both have been found to have sufficiently high estimates of internal consistency reliability to beused for research purposes. Data was also collected on whether students had previously takenfluid dynamics and heat transfer courses. Finally, instructors were asked to indicate how theyhad implemented a packet of inquiry-based activities specifically designed to teach reversibility.Results showed that conceptual understanding of thermodynamics (five concept areas) asmeasured on the CIET was significantly higher for the inquiry-based activities groups than theno inquiry-based (control) groups, although the effect size was small. Post-test scores weresignificantly higher for students who had previously taken courses in fluid dynamics and heattransfer when compared to those who had not. There was a significant difference between theinquiry-based and control groups on students’ understanding of reversibility and theirunderstanding of this concept area was impacted by their having taken fluid dynamics and heattransfer. The way in which the professors implemented the reversibility activities was collectedand evaluated.

Nottis, K. E. K., & Vigeant, M. A., & Prince, M. J., & Aguilera Silva, A. G. (2013, June), The Effect of Inquiry-Based Activities and Prior Knowledge on Undergraduates' Understanding of Reversibility Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22576

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