June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
12.1592.1 - 12.1592.6
processing units, and adding components beyond what are described in the problem statement.
This inability to translate a problem statement into a proper process flow diagram was viewed as a fundamental weakness. Without a proper flow diagram it was going to be impossible to derive an appropriate set of equations to solve thus resulting in an inappropriate solution. This leads to further problems. As Felder and Silverman1 have found, the majority of learners at the college level are visual learners. The problem statements they are given in a material and energy balance class are verbal, however. This disconnect between what they are given and the manner in which they learn the best may be partially responsible for the unacceptably high drop-out rate in material and energy balance classes. Yet this ability to transform verbal information into visual images is an essential skill they will need not only in the material and energy balance class but throughout their careers as chemical engineers.
Solution for the Observed Weakness
Thus, after observing this first group of students, we felt that we needed to develop some type of tool or procedure by which we could help students make the transition from written material to visual material. This is not only a necessary skill but also would allow students to continue learning using their preferred learning style. If students were able to master this skill they would be more successful in the material and energy balance class and thus more likely to succeed in completing their educational goals.
The difficult part of this task is to give the students enough guidance so that they can master the skill of transforming written material to graphical material without giving them so much guidance that they cannot perform this transition without the use of the tool developed for them. In fact a tool similar to what we were envisioning comes with virtually all process simulation software (ASPEN, HYSYS, PRO/II). In these software packages the user is presented a palette of unit operations. These can be dragged and dropped into a worksheet then connected with material and/or energy streams to construct a process flow diagram. After adding material properties and other information the software then constructs and computes all of the necessary material and energy balances.
For a student attempting to learn the basics of chemical engineering these software packages fail for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, is that the skills we sought to build – the ability to develop material and energy balances – is done in the background in these packages. The user is only told whether enough information has been supplied to allow a calculation to occur. Thus a student using these software packages never develops the problem solving skills necessary for them to become a complete engineer. In addition these packages, being intended for use by professionals, contain far more details than can be managed by a student at the time of their first introduction to the discipline.
Zollars, R., & Hundhausen, C., & Stefik, M. (2007, June), Visual Learning In A Material/Energy Balance Class Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2345
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