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Using A Delphi Study To Identify The Most Difficult Concepts For Students To Master In Thermal And Transport Sciences

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Tools of Teaching and Learning

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1235.1 - 8.1235.8



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Paper Authors

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Mary Nelson

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Barbara Olds

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Ronald Miller

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Ruth Streveler

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

Session 1531

Using a Delphi Study to Identify the Most Difficult Concepts for Students to Master in Thermal and Transport Science Ruth A. Streveler, Barbara M. Olds, Ronald L. Miller1 Colorado School of Mines

Mary A. Nelson University of Colorado, Boulder


In this paper, we describe the use of Delphi methodology to reach consensus among a group of experienced engineering faculty about the difficulty and importance of fundamental concepts in the thermal and transport sciences. Our purpose is to identify concepts of high importance and low student understanding to use as the focus for creating a concept inventory to assess students’ conceptual understanding in the thermal and transport sciences. Based on the Delphi study results, 12 concepts are currently under consideration for inclusion in the concept inventory.

Introduction and Background

Engineering faculty members often comment that even students who can correctly solve problems in fluid dynamics, heat transfer, or thermodynamics still believe that, for example, heat flows like a substance or that processes stop when they reach equilibrium. These faculty observations are supported by evidence in the literature that suggests science and engineering students do not conceptually understand many fundamental molecular-level and atomic-level phenomena such as light, heat, or electricity. [1, 2] The literature also suggests that the problem is more than simply one of confusion or misunderstanding, but instead involves fundamental misconceptions by students about differences in the way that molecular-scale processes differ from observable, macroscopic causal behavior we experience in our daily lives. [3, 4]

Before faculty can hope to develop curricular interventions to repair student misconceptions like these, they must first identify which concepts their students don’t understand and what misconceptions are prevalent. Such assessments (termed concept inventories) are now available in selected science fields (e.g. physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy) and in some mathematics topics, but are only now being developed for selected engineering science topics. [5]

With NSF support, we are developing a concept inventory for thermal and transport sciences encompassing introductory thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer. To help validate our inventory, we have conducted a Delphi study with approximately 30 well-respected engineering faculty experts and prominent engineering textbook authors to identify important concepts in thermal and transport science disciplines that are consistently difficult for students to

1 Contact author: Ronald L. Miller, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO 80401,, 303-273-3892. Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ©2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Nelson, M., & Olds, B., & Miller, R., & Streveler, R. (2003, June), Using A Delphi Study To Identify The Most Difficult Concepts For Students To Master In Thermal And Transport Sciences Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12592

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