June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
22.1459.1 - 22.1459.15
The First Course ChE Student: Lost in Translation ? Historically, it is not uncommon for students who have done well in their freshman year to struggle with their first chemical engineering course: mass and energy balances (MEB). This difficulty is curious, as the course is based on concepts first encountered in high school and first year chemistry (conservation of elemental mass, stoichiometry) and physics (conservation of energy). The central intellectual activity for our MEB course, using the now classic text by Felder and Rousseau, is reading problem statements, creating process flowsheets and solving the associated equations. The general solution approach is efficiently described as up to a dozen steps, each delineated to ensure creation of future needed information. Executing these steps in proper sequence complexity not previously encountered in earlier science and mathematics courses. It is at first a bit intimidating, and the interconnectedness of steps requires a strict sequence approach, without which hazards abound. We propose a modified view of this problem solution sequence vs. that identified above. In the broadest sense, the vocabularies with which the typical problem solution are represented are three, verbal, visual, and analytic, and are connected sequentially as shown below: Verbal =======> Visual =======> Analytic (translation) (translation) We connect them by arrows to indicate information flow. Since these worlds utilize different vocabularies, the passage of information between them represents acts of translation. The thesis of this paper is that challenges to solving such flow sheet problems derive in part from difficulties in translation between these virtual worlds. That such translation might provide difficulties for some students is evident from considering student learning types as well as human physiology and neuroscience. Herrmann’s opus, The Creative Brain, reports results of surveying more than half a million subjects which led him to propose a four quadrant version of brain activities, divided as left vs. right brain, and cerebral vs limbic locations. He presented these results both in verbal and graphical form. The latter representation indicates clearly that our typical MEB multi-step procedure involves not only lingual but also spatial translation. We argue that some appreciable portion of problem solving difficulty is attributable to translation. If true, then practice in translation could prove useful. Translation as a new activity in problem solving was suggested by Diana Laurillard in her book, Rethinking University Teaching: A Conversational Framework for the Effective use of Learning Technologies, 2nd ed. She observed students in her crystallography course who “recognize the need to practice the mapping process between the formalism and the reality it represents,” and proposed that “For the representation to be intelligible, they need to practice the translation in both directions.(italics added). “ In our case, the verbal, visual, and analytic descriptions are all virtual representations, hence translation between these entities represents a yet higher level of abstraction than that identified by Laurillard. Extending her suggestion, we propose inclusion of explicit “translation“ exercises for the sophomore student, and offer a dozen example illustrations for first chemical engineering courses.
Ollis, D. F. (2011, June), The First Course ChE Student: Lost in Translation Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. https://peer.asee.org/18373
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