Active Learning Examples from Steve Kmiotek in Chemical Engineering

Filed in engaging students in class by on January 18, 2016 0 Comments

Stephen-Kmiotek_formalIn an introductory chemical engineering class, I wanted to convey a visual representation of the conservation of mass in different unit operations under different conditions, including steady state, non-steady-state, separation systems, recycle streams, and concepts of concentration.  To do this, I had several student volunteers serve as unit operations, processing some red and some yellow disks.  While some conditions were fairly obvious (steady state with separation), students got to see the impact of accumulation when one stream stopped.  The exercise also helped show the different ways we could characterize the flow (total flow, flow of each component, concentration of each component…).

In a senior design class, I draw heavily from my industrial experience, bringing examples and pictures from projects I have conducted over the years.  However, most of our students have conducted internships, so I invite them to describe design features (good and bad) that they have seen during their internships.  It often takes a little direction and several leading questions to get them to draw the connections (How far away from tank was the pump?  What kind of pump was it?  Was it raised off the floor?).  In addition to adding to the class, the impact has been to validate their internship experiences.

The biggest challenge I’ve had with active learning is in large introductory classes in large lecture halls.  I have found it very challenging, for instance, to have the students work in small groups on some problems.  The logistics and seating just make it challenging.  What has worked for me is to do out problems on the board or document camera, serving as scribe as students call out the solution.  They will go down non-productive paths and I will go along until it’s obvious that the path is incorrect.  Some of these paths have actually lead to some of the best learning, as I then have a chance to explain why that path didn’t work and correct misunderstandings.

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