(247d) Teaching Thermodynamics: Designing a Course That Compensate, Support and Challenge Students' Learning

Authors: 
Forciniti, D. - Presenter, Missouri University of Science and Technology
Cernusca, D. - Presenter, Missouri University of Science and Technology


Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics is one of the driest topics in the chemical engineering curriculum. In most schools thermodynamics is taken by first or second semester sophomores, who undergo a cultural shock as they move away from their freshman engineering experience. The combination of a very abstract topic and very young students makes the teaching of thermodynamics a challenging experience. I have been teaching thermodynamics for the last twenty years. Students' reception to my class varies but, in general, I am not a candidate to teaching awards. Part of the problem has been the need to accommodate my lectures to a diversity of students with quite dissimilar backgrounds. Approximately two years ago I began transforming my class by introducing elements of cooperative learning and video clips. These changes were made with the help of an Instructional Designer. In this presentation, I will offer the novice or prospective thermodynamics teacher enough elements to design a course which has, I believe, good chances to be a successful one. The main elements of the course will be introduced in the first part of the presentation. Available textbooks will be briefly discussed. The key topics to be covered in either a 4 credit hours thermo course or two 3 credit hours thermo sequence will be discussed in some detail as well as the difficulties that the students encounter, sometimes as a consequence of the topic but sometimes because of the students' background. That discussion will be used to introduce the elements of cooperative learning and the video clips that I use in my classes. The availability of easy-to-use video capture and editing technology combined with increased capability to make them available online made small educational videos, often called courselets, a useful tool for instructors interested in expanding their classroom activities beyond the lecture time. This presentation includes such attempts made at Missouri S&T for an introductory undergraduate thermodynamics course. The convergent perspective of an Instructional Designer and of the Instructor of this course will introduce: a) the learning needs addressed from compensating for prior knowledge to challenging high achievers; b) the technical and organizational strategies used to produce these courselets and c) the instructional tasks developed to effectively integrate this technology in the classroom. Finally both the feedback from students exposed to these small instructional videos, and instructor's perspective on the impact of this tool are discussed.

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