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Writing Abstracts of Homework Problem Solutions: Implementation and Assessment in a Material Balances Course

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Improving Introductory Experiences in Chemical Engineering

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1405.1 - 24.1405.9



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Paper Authors


Kevin D. Dahm Rowan University

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Kevin Dahm is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at Rowan University. He received his B.S. from WPI in 1992 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1998. He co-authored the book "Interpreting Diffuse Reflectance and Transmittance," published in 2007, with his father Donald Dahm. His second book, "Fundamentals of Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics," a collaboration with Donald Visco of the University of Akron, is expected to be released by January 10, 2014. Kevin has received the 2002 PIC-III Award, the 2003 Joseph J. Martin Award, the 2004 Raymond W. Fahien Award and the 2005 Corcoran Award from ASEE.

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Stephanie Farrell Rowan University

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Dr. Stephanie Farrell is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Rowan University (USA). She obtained her PhD in Chemical Engineering from New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1996. Prior to joining the faculty at Rowan in 1998, she was an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Louisiana Tech University until 1998. Dr. Farrell has contributed to engineering education through her work in experiential learning, focusing on areas of pharmaceutical, biomedical and food engineering. She has been honored by the American Society of Engineering Education with several teaching awards such as the 2004 National Outstanding Teaching Medal and the 2005 Quinn Award for experiential learning.

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This paper will describe a study in which students in a course on material balances were required to write abstracts for homework problems.  Students were assigned weekly homework assignments which consisted of problems assigned from the course textbook.  Students completed the assignments in teams of three and submitted one solution per team.  However, in addition, students were required to write abstracts describing their problem solutions.  In the abstracts, students summarized the purpose of the problem, the system under consideration, the known and unknown information and the solution procedure.  There were two purposes to assigning the abstracts.  First, it was hypothesized that requiring students to write about their problem solutions in a reflective way could foster a more thorough understanding of the processes being modeled, and instill in students a conscious recognition of effective problem‐solving strategies.  Second, it was hypothesized that the abstracts would provide an effective tool for assessing individual contributions to the team assignments.   Use of homework abstracts was piloted in the Fall 2012 semester.  This activity was not popular with students and they reported it took a lot of time, but there was evidence of improved student learning compared to previous cohorts who did not complete homework abstracts.  However, because other changes to the course were also implemented in the Fall of 2012, the measured improvement cannot be attributed conclusively to the use of abstracts.  Consequently, in the Fall of 2013, the authors conducted a control experiment with two sections of the course.  In both sections, students were assigned the same homework problems (4‐5 problems per week) and completed the assignments in teams of three.  However, in one section, each individual student was required to write an abstract for one problem each week.  In the other section no homework abstracts were required.  The instructors coordinated all other aspects of the course as closely as possible, including following the same syllabus and giving identical exams on the same day.  Data comparing the performance of the two sections will be available in January 2014 when draft manuscripts are submitted.   The authors will present an assessment of the impact of the abstracts as measured by comparing performances in the two sections.  Specifically the paper will address the following questions:   Did students who completed the abstracts attain the learning objectives of the course more  thoroughly than students in the control group, who completed the same homework  problems in teams of the same size, but who were not required to write abstracts?   Was there a correlation between the quality of a student’s abstracts and performance on  exams?   Was there a correlation between the quality of a student’s abstracts and the contribution of  that student to the team, as measured by peer evaluations?    

Dahm, K. D., & Farrell, S. (2014, June), Writing Abstracts of Homework Problem Solutions: Implementation and Assessment in a Material Balances Course Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22795

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