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Using A Concurrently Collaborative Spreadsheet To Improve Teamwork And Chemical Engineering Problem Solving

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

The Latest in Improving Learning in ChE Students

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1323.1 - 13.1323.16



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Paper Authors


David Silverstein University of Kentucky

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David L. Silverstein is currently an Associate Professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Kentucky College of Engineering Extended Campus Programs in Paducah. He received his B.S.Ch.E. from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; his M.S. and Ph.D in Chemical Engineering from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee; and has been a registered P.E. since 2002. He has over twenty years experience in microcomputer programming. Silverstein is the 2004 recipient of the William H. Corcoran Award for the most outstanding paper published in Chemical Engineering Education during 2003, and the 2007 recipient of the Raymond W. Fahien Award for Outstanding Teaching Effectiveness and Educational Scholarship.

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

Using a Concurrently Collaborative Spreadsheet to Improve Teamwork and Chemical Engineering Problem Solving


A project investigating the viability of a concurrently collaborative online spreadsheet to improve the effectiveness of student teams when solving chemical engineering problems is described. Students in two classes representing sophomores and seniors were assigned a problem to be solved using a spreadsheet on Google Docs, an online browser-based suite of productivity applications. The unique feature of this spreadsheet is that multiple users on multiple machines can edit the same spreadsheet simultaneously, with changes appearing on all users screen within about one second. Assessment was performed to determine whether use of this spreadsheet was technically viable, suitable for students not in the same room, and useful for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of students working in teams. From a limited sample size assessment, the Google spreadsheet does appear to be viable, to allow effective communication amongst participants, and to contribute to a more efficient and effective team problem-solving experience.


To prepare students for practice in the modern industrial world, graduates of chemical engineering degree programs are expected to function effectively in teams. At the same time, problem-solving skills are a focus, typically involving some computation. Often, these computations are completed with some computer software, with the most common type of software package used being a spreadsheet.

Collaboration on solving computational problems involving software has typically followed one of two models: participants gathered around a single computer with one individual interacting with the software; or a single computational file shared amongst multiple users, either from a common storage location or revision sharing via e-mail or other file transfer method. Neither method is efficient due to the need for reconciliation amongst edited versions or a limit of one concurrent editing session.

A new spreadsheet software, currently in beta status, is available from Google as part of its free Google Docs service. Google Docs is a web-browser based collection of office software (word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations) which is not operating system dependent, using Java to provide a rich user interface. The spreadsheet contains the key inline functions required for most chemical engineering problems, though it does lack other capabilities engineers frequently use in Microsoft Excel, such as Goal Seek, Solver, and advanced graphing functionality. Perhaps the most interesting feature of Google Docs is the ability to share a single online document amongst multiple users, and when configured appropriately, to enable simultaneous editing by multiple users.

Silverstein, D. (2008, June), Using A Concurrently Collaborative Spreadsheet To Improve Teamwork And Chemical Engineering Problem Solving Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3187

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