Computer applications and innovative teaching in chemical engineering education
Thesis DisciplineChemical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In this thesis computer applications and innovative teaching methods in Chemical Engineering education were evaluated. These innovative teaching procedures and methods, incorporated into courses, were: co-operative learning in groups, creative problem-solving, a wider use of laboratory time, and very importantly computer technology. A paradigm shift from traditional teaching methods to reduce lectures, include different teaching methods and use the technology, was evaluated.
The literature review details developments in the design of the human computer interface. What constitutes a good interface design? The formation ofrelevant criteria for an effective interface design method is a complex problem. Human Computer Interface (HCI) research focuses on the design of the interface considering the interaction of people and technology. The new challenge for designers and educators is the implementation oflearner-centred design.
Mathematical power tools - Maple™, Mathematica™, MATLAB™, and Excel™ - are computer applications for simple and advanced mathematics, enabling engineers to solve mathematical and computational problems. These four packages were compared, assessing ease of learning and flexibility in use, for undergraduate engineers, using engineering problems as examples. Six problems were solved for comparison:- steady-state heat conduction temperature profiles were calculated and graphically presented, an energy analysis requiring inversion of an eighty by eighty matrix of input/output data, a multi-variable optimisation for an illumination design, a Fourier series approximation, and two process control problems; one root finding for Bode design and the other requiring integration of a system of differential equations.. The best mathematical application depended on the nature of the problem to be solved but overall Mathematica™ and MATLAB™ were ranked ahead of Maple™ and Excel™.
A telephone survey of Christchurch Engineers was conducted to find out which mathematical packages were used by consulting engineers. Results indicated that 64% of those surveyed used Excel, 4% used Mathematica, 4% used MATLAB and 28% did not use any of the mathematical applications.
The development of problem solving skills is an integrated part of the teaching of design in third year. Computer-based problem solving modules were used as a supplement to lectures. Students worked in pairs in a computer laboratory situation, with their work assessed on-line. Students' opinions of the problem solving modules were evaluated by a questionnaire at the end of the course. The interactive computer modules provided a new and different learning environment which the students found to be a useful supplement to lectures.
Problem solving skills, at least for the small student population used in this work, were found to be independent of academic achievement. Strategies for problemsolving are techniques that can be learned. In addition, the research examined four further questions in relation to problem solving skills: how students performed on each computer module, gender differences of our Chemical Engineering students in problem solving skills, the relationship between problem solving skills and ability in other subjects, and attempted to assess the academic ability of Chemical Engineering students from year to year.
A computer-based simulation exercise - the Amoco project - was used as the .final assignment for the third year chemical engineering design class. This project provided an industrial based example for planning, decision making and problem solving. A questionnaire administered at the end of the course gave students' responses to the course. Working in groups of three was a feature of the project and the majority of students enjoyed this aspect, as well as finding the computer simulation a useful learning experience. Pre and post-test results showed a significant learning outcome from this project in 1997.
Production of a multimedia interactive computer module for teaching finite difference approximations to first and second derivatives was the final project. This involved analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation. To evaluate the computer module a pilot study of eighteen voluntary students, and an experimental group of eighty students were used. Supplementary to lectures, two different laboratory sessions compared the computer-based module with a mathematical problem solving session. In the pilot study there was a significant difference between the groups (t=3.81), but there was no significant difference between the two methods for the experimental group (t=l .69). An Analysis of Variance resulted in an F-test value of 2.29 which was also not significant.
Learning Styles were assessed by Soloman's Leaming Styles Inventory indicating that learning styles were different from those addressed by traditional lectures. Students have difference learning styles, and therefore educators need to provide a variety of teaching and learning methods.
The innovative contribution of this work to the field of Chemical Engineering education included:
• Comparison of four mathematical packages using six engineering problems to determine the suitability of these packages for undergraduate students; evaluation of computer-based problem solving modules as a supplement to lectures;
• Setting up and maintaining the Amoco design project on our Unix system for students use on a PC display network;
• Adapting the Amoco project to suit third year engineering students and measuring the learning outcome;
• Designing and evaluating a computer-based module on finite difference approximation for a laboratory setting as a supplement to lectures;
• Comparison of two different teaching methods - text and computer-based to supplement lectures on numerical methods;
• Evaluation of a selection of engineering students learning styles.