(243a) To Teach or Not to Teach, What Is the Answer?

The typical university graduate will have spent 17 of their 21 years being taught a prescribed education regimen. The retention of this education is tested through written exams which, in the best of cases, will permit the student to elaborate on the answer and outline the process they took to achieve it. In the worst of cases, the evaluation is reduced to a multiple choice format due to the limited capacity of the education system to do otherwise. In all cases, there is typically only one correct answer or approach thereto.

Fortunately the next 60 years of one’s life and career are not so simple and much richer: there is no one right answer, but rather a multitude of possible acceptable solutions to choose from. For Chemical Engineers who have been subjected to problem-based and/or self directed learning, this realization may come early during their college education; for others, the capstone project may present the first opportunity toward this realization. Ultimately it is the professor’s approach to learning that dictates when students begin to think more richly towards varied and novel solutions. Should learning be pushed onto the student through professing or be pulled by the student through the establishment of the appropriate problem and reward? Which of these approaches will lead to a deeper retention of the curriculum? As professor of a capstone course, I chose a problem-based learning approach thus taking on the role of mentor and client rather than professor. I responded to student questions with questions. Each question designed to guide but not direct; no answers were provided. My students’ response to my unconventional approach fitted well with the model of Kübbler-Ross describing grief management, while their group dynamics nicely fit Tuckman’s Group Development Model.

This talk will report on the pros and cons of a problem-based capstone project, the educator and student roles, student and group dynamics, mentoring mechanisms and effectiveness, and finally on an unexpected team performance. As is often the case, both in this course and in life, the question asked in this educational experiment has lead to learning and to a more profound question: should one teach or mentor the chemical engineers of the future?