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Work-In-Progress:Tools for Creating Variable Parameter Homework Problems

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Work-in-Progress Oral Session

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


John Eric Wagner Trine University

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John Wagner is a Professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering at Trine University. He has degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Colorado and Rice University and has worked for Shell Oil.

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Amanda Portis Malefyt Trine University

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Amanda Malefyt is currently Chair and Assistant Professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical & Bioprocess Engineering at Trine University. Her research interests include engineering education and nucleic acid therapeutics.

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Jon D Koch Trine University

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Analytical numerical problems and exercises are foundational to the education of engineers. These problems were traditionally assigned to the students as homework problems. These types of problems had the advantage of being more in depth than examination questions, required the students to document their solutions, and promoted student collaboration. This method of instruction has been degraded in recent years by the abundance of easy to access solutions manuals. Many professors have responded, by some combination of (1) deemphasizing homework in the course grade (2) making up their own problems or modifying those from textbooks, or (3) adopting a publisher created web-based programs that give students different problems.

None of these tactics are without problems. In particular, making up homework problems is error prone and time intensive while the publisher products typically come at an additional fee for the students, are not available for all subjects and tend to tie a course to a specific book.

A centralized crowd source homework repository available currently at has been initiated to address some of these shortcomings. This repository, while in its infancy, is freely available for educators to query and download both static and variable parameter problems for use in their course. When the variable parameter problems are chosen, and distributed, each student solves a different version of the same basic problem. The student interface provides students with immediate feedback, allows for multiple tries, and provides a common, no-credit base-case to promote student collaboration. In addition, the instructor can easily add reflective and metacognitive questions to promote higher level thinking. Students submit their documented work along with the machine graded output. Students rate the problem difficulty and effectiveness along with their problem-solving performance. One big advantage for users of the repository is not having to commit to an entirely new system. These problems can supplement any homework system currently in use. Critical to this homework repository is a standardized method for creating variable parameter problems. An Excel template has been developed for this function. Excel was chosen as the development tool because of its familiarity, ubiquity and flexibility since most commercial engineering packages have developed modules to pass information to and from Excel. Therefore, problem contributors can either develop their solution solely in Excel or use Excel as a front and back end utilizing other more appropriate packages such as MATLAB for solving the problem.

Developing these variable parameter problems with the aid of the template involves • Selecting and entering information about the problem (the problem meta-data) • Entering the problem statement, and identifying the variable parameters • Setting the range of each of the parameters • Solving the problem using Excel or an auxiliary program • Running macros to generate files that can be uploaded to the repository

Over seventy-five variable parameter problems have been developed and used in a Material and Energy Balance course in Chemical Engineering using various forms of the template. The solution to these problems were all performed with-in Excel. A limited number of problems have been developed for Mechanical Engineering Thermodynamics where MATLAB was used with Excel. Initial, student feedback is overwhelmingly positive with a rating of over 4.5 out of 5 on both their like and perceived effectiveness of the problems. Faculty grading time while not eliminated is much less than half of that of a traditional homework assignment.

Wagner, J. E., & Malefyt, A. P., & Koch, J. D. (2017, June), Work-In-Progress:Tools for Creating Variable Parameter Homework Problems Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29192

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