In the chemical engineering curriculum, courses in process economics and preliminary process design aim to introduce students to topics that will be crucial to their success in their senior capstone projects as well as in their future careers. At the study institution, this course, entitled Process Economics and Green Design, has traditionally been offered in a lecture-only format and has at times suffered from poor attendance and low participation in class discussions. In Fall 2018, this course was redesigned at the study institution to include a laboratory-component with contextual learning activities. Specific outcomes of the course redesign that were anticipated included:
1. students would have a greater appreciation of the relevance of the course with the addition of the active and contextual learning experiences in both the lecture and laboratory sessions, and
2. students would demonstrate enhanced achievement of course outcomes with respect to previous offerings of the course due to a potential increase in motivation and willingness to put time and effort into the course.
In order to allow students additional opportunities to actively engage with the course material, the four hours previously allotted as lecture time were reallocated to include three hours of lecture/discussion with the class as a whole, and one hour of laboratory, or small group activities with no more than twenty-four students at a time. The lecture period was redesigned to focus on topical case studies illustrating key concepts related to chemical engineering plant design as well as to include active learning exercises.
The heart of the redesign was realized in the new laboratory component. These laboratory sessions emulated a work environment, where students worked in groups on pieces of a larger design project and rotated through various roles within their groups. The small-scale projects were designed to prepare students to take on larger plant design projects such as the capstone projects that they were required to complete later in their senior year.
The goals of the course redesign were assessed using end-of-term student evaluations of teaching and performance on common assignments completed by the cohort taking the redesigned course vs. students who took the course during the previous offering. Responses to the end-of-term student evaluations of teaching shows that the students’ rating of the educational value of the course significantly increased for the redesigned offering of the course. Students were given many opportunities to actively engage with the course material via contextual learning experiences as a part of the course redesign, and students appeared to respond in a positive way to these opportunities based on the percentage of lectures that students self-reported on attending and adherence to the attendance requirement in the laboratory sections. Performance on major assignments common to the redesigned course and previous offering of the course were observed to be not significantly impacted.
Future efforts will focus on better connecting the weekly design laboratories to the content presented in lecture so that any improvement in student comprehension of the course material achieved via the design labs will have a greater probability of being transferred to these other contexts.
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