385917 Engaging Students in the Capstone Laboratory Using New Processes & Novel Pedagogy

Sunday, November 16, 2014
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
Daniel Anastasio, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

One of the greatest problems facing engineering education in the 21st century is developing ways to engage modern students in the learning process, as these students seem less receptive to the traditional transmission model of lectures and experiments.  Further challenges present themselves as engineering disciplines continue to evolve, both in terms of technological advances and scope, necessitating updates to engineering curricula at the university-level.  During my PhD research with Prof. Jeffrey R. McCutcheon and Prof. Daniel D. Burkey, I was able to explore possible solutions to these challenges by changing the way the capstone laboratory course was taught at the University of Connecticut, both by building new experiments and by using learner-based pedagogies.

Updating Experimental Curriculum

            The capstone laboratory class at the University of Connecticut was a standard unit operations laboratory with fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and pilot-scale separations experiments.  In order to better prepare students for the broader applications of modern chemical engineering, several experiments were added that include chemical vapor deposition and bacterial fermentation kinetics in a bioreactor.  While I assisted in the development of these experiments, I was principally responsible for the development of several membrane separations experiments, including a reverse osmosis system, a forward osmosis test system, and an osmotic heat engine capable of generating electricity from salinity gradients.  All three of these systems serve dual roles as both educational platforms and as research tools.  Additive manufacturing elements were also added to the course by the development of a small-scale reactor design experiment, which allow students to test continuous flow reactors they design and print with a 3D printer.  For all new experiments, it was important that they all be based on some chemical engineering fundamental, to allow students to see how what they have learned can be used once they leave school. 

Improving Engagement with Gamification

            In order to improve student attitudes toward the laboratory course, optional game-based elements were introduced.  Students were divided into teams that would all complete a common set of experiments.  Students were encouraged to complete optional tasks designed to assist with laboratory report preparation.  Completion of these tasks gives student teams non-grade points. At the end of the semester, the team that had collected the most points would receive a non-grade based reward.  Students have overwhelmingly embraced this system, saying it made the class feel memorable and kept them interested in the course throughout the semester.  Other faculty in the University of Connecticut Chemical Engineering Department have adopted some elements of this course into their own.

Teaching & Research Interests

            I seek a position that primarily focuses on teaching.  I am comfortable teaching a capstone laboratory course, as I have served as a teaching assistant for the course since Fall 2009 and have co-taught the course with the instructor of record since Fall 2011.  I also have an interest in teaching courses at other levels, particularly fluid mechanics, unit operations/separations, process design & safety, or first-year engineering courses, as I have recently helped teach a pilot version of a project-based freshman design course.  My previous experience also makes me highly qualified to teach specialty courses such as membrane separations, water quality engineering, or engineering ethics.  My research interests include applying novel engineering pedagogies such as the ones I have developed as part of my doctoral work.  I am very interested in finding collaborators and doing long-term studies with faculty members at other universities.  My other research interests are related to membrane separations, with desalination and engineered osmosis process engineering as a major focus.


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