(389c) Using Inquiry-Based Activities to Promote Understanding of Critical Engineering Concepts | AIChE

(389c) Using Inquiry-Based Activities to Promote Understanding of Critical Engineering Concepts


Prince, M. J. - Presenter, Bucknell University

This study examines the use of inquiry-based teaching to promote understanding of critical engineering concepts. Significant research shows that students often enter the classroom with tightly held misconceptions about the physical world that are not effectively addressed through traditional teaching. As a result, students are frequently able to solve problems that have been explicitly taught, but are unable to apply course concepts to solve real problems not seen in class. Failure to grasp prerequisite concepts also leaves students poorly prepared for more advanced study.

Students' conceptual understanding can be dramatically enhanced, however, through a paradigm shift in teaching that incorporates inquiry-based methods. This is an inductive and collaborative teaching method where student teams are first introduced to specific, thought-provoking exercises. Students are placed in carefully designed situations where reality, rather than the professor, can dispute their preconceptions. The effectiveness of this approach has been extensively documented using thousands of undergraduate physics students. It has also been shown that emphasizing conceptual learning does not come at the expense of covering content or developing students' problem-solving ability. As of yet, however, inquiry-based activities have not been systematically developed for engineering education.

This work seeks to fill that gap. In the initial phase of the project, the work targets two student misconceptions relating to heat transfer and thermodynamics. The specific misconceptions addressed are (1) the relationship among temperature, heat and energy and (2) entropy. Educational materials to address student misconceptions in these areas have been developed and preliminary results from using these materials are now available. The effectiveness of the prototype materials was assessed using concept inventories. Concept inventories are reliable and valid multiple choice assessment tools specifically designed to identify common misconceptions. Members of the research team that developed a relevant concept inventory for thermal and transport science are involved as collaborators on the current project.

The work is of potentially broad interest for the following reasons:

? It addresses one of the fundamental and widely recognized issues in education, namely the importance of uncovering and addressing student misconceptions ? The misconceptions targeted for this proposal have specifically been identified as both important and difficult for students to master by a panel of 30 experts from a variety of institutions ? The inquiry-based approach proposed to address this problem is based on a model proven to be effective with a large population of undergraduate students

This paper shares the results from the first year of testing with inquiry-based lessons. The preliminary results have been quite positive. Concept inventories were used as pre- and post- course measures of student understanding in order to document actual learning gains. This was done for two distinct course offerings, one taught normally and one taught using inquiry-based activities. As a result, we have documented learning gains with and without the use of inquiry-based activities. While normal instruction did little to alter student misconceptions in the targeted areas, inquiry-based methods were found to be significantly more effective.