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Work in Progress: Transforming a Course

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Works-in-Progress Postcard Session

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Polly R. Piergiovanni Lafayette College

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Polly R. Piergiovanni is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at Lafayette College. Besides chemical engineering courses, she teaches an engineering course to nonengineering students. Her current research interests include critical thinking evident in student writing and assessing learning in experiential learning activities.

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Third year students at X University enroll in an Applied Fluid Dynamics and Heat Transfer course the semester following a theoretical Transport Phenomena course. Student learning in both courses is assessed via weekly homework assignments, one or two midterm exams and a final exam. In the applied course, however, the “artificial” exam questions were not always a good indication of student learning. Writing exam questions that could clearly show student understanding of the applications and fairly grading the student answers was challenging. Thus, in Spring 2017 the course was modified to address three research questions: • Can students learn the course material through inexpensive hands-on projects conducted during class time? • What project should be developed for each segment of the course? • Can the instructor assess individual student learning through group project reports? If so, how should the report rubric be structured to clearly communicate expectations? Previous research has clearly shown that students do learn course material through hands-on projects. Thus, this paper will address the initial results from the second and third questions.

The student learning objectives for each segment of the course were used to develop the five projects. Each course segment was about three weeks long, and contained lectures, problem-solving sessions and time to gather data for the project. No exams were given during the semester, however, each segment ended with a quiz with questions at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The projects were completed in small groups (two to six students). The grading rubrics lined up with the learning objectives and were at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

The reports showed that the students were able to apply the course concepts to the projects. This was often challenging. For example, the heat exchanger they analyzed was neither a shell-and-tube nor a flat plate heat exchanger. The students had to make many assumptions in order to find the overall heat transfer coefficient. The reports showed that the students were able to make logical assumptions, and operate at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy to analyze the data. It was not always smooth - some students complained about the lack of precise data or accurate models for the projects, and grading the project reports required as much time – or more – as grading exams.

One question on the student course evaluations is “How did the various components of the course contribute to your learning?” Almost all students (38/41) indicated that the projects were the major component, followed by homework and lectures. Only one student considered the projects “a waste of time”. Other students wrote that the projects “were more challenging than homework and ensured thorough understanding”, “made you think analytically” and were “straight forward and rewarding in that they were relevant”.

Analysis of the final exam showed that the majority of the students recalled the concepts and were able to apply them to the exam problems. However, students at the lower end of the spectrum, performed worse on the exam than they had on the projects. Most likely they did not participate fully in the project report and had not fully understood the concepts. Suggestions to address this will be provided and discussed in the paper and at the presentation.

An oral session is preferred.

Piergiovanni, P. R. (2018, June), Work in Progress: Transforming a Course Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31310

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