(445c) Beyond the Lab: Virtual Exchanges for Chemical Engineering Laboratories | AIChE

(445c) Beyond the Lab: Virtual Exchanges for Chemical Engineering Laboratories


Mérida Figueróa, F. - Presenter, University of Florida
Zapata, P., Universidad de Concepción
Chemical engineering laboratories are an integral part of undergraduate chemical engineering education, providing students with hands-on experience in the practical application of theoretical concepts. These labs are designed to primarily simulate industrial processes, allowing students to develop a range of essential skills, including experimental design, data analysis, and problem-solving. They also offer unique opportunities for students to work collaboratively, improving their communication, teamwork, and leadership skills. While these labs focus on technical skills, they may not provide opportunities for students to engage in supplementary activities beyond the lab that further enhance their experiential learning. Examples include opportunities for students to learn about or appreciate different cultures, development of foreign language proficiency, and student-centered experiment discussion with peers from a different institution. This can be important for developing a global mindset in today's interconnected world.

Chemical engineering processes are increasingly global in nature, and working with diverse cultures and languages is a common occurrence in industry and graduate school pathways. Thus, students who develop multicultural competencies, foreign language proficiency, and improved knowledge of location-specific experimentation during their education are better prepared to succeed in the profession. As such, it is important for institutions to balance the technical focus of chemical engineering teaching labs with opportunities for students to engage in broader learning experiences.

We propose the design and subsequent integration of a Virtual Exchange (VE) as an alternative to enhance the student learning outcomes in chemical engineering laboratories. VEs offer a unique opportunity for students to engage with peers from different countries and cultures without leaving the classroom, thus broadening their exposure to diverse perspectives and practices. In this way, VEs could help bridge the gap between the typical lab-based class structure and real-world experience by simulating the challenges and opportunities of global collaboration. Furthermore, virtual exchanges could be tailored to incorporate language and cultural competency development, as well as industry-specific experimentation knowledge. However, it is essential to ensure that virtual exchanges are well-structured, well-resourced, and well-supported to achieve the intended learning outcomes including those of societal impact in a global context.

The Chemical Engineering Departments at the University of Florida (USA) and Universidad de Concepción (Chile) have established a partnership to develop a Virtual Exchange (VE) for their junior lab. The primary objective of this VE is to enhance the experiential learning of students by integrating discussions of experiments within a multicultural framework, coupled with technical and non-technical language exchange. These activities will be linked to the established student learning outcomes of each class, and instruments will be developed to evaluate the impact of VE-related activities on achieving these outcomes. The partner institutions have completed a mandatory five-week VE training program as the first phase of the project. The VE design process is currently in progress, with a focus on identifying synchronous and asynchronous activities, establishing timelines, determining assessment methods, and allocating VE-related activities within the course schedule for each institution

Overall, the use of virtual exchanges in chemical engineering laboratories has great potential to enrich students' learning experiences, increase their global awareness, and enhance their employability in a rapidly changing world.