429181 Managing Expanding Class Sizes in an Expanding Chemical Engineering Laboratory

Monday, November 9, 2015: 12:48 PM
Alpine West (Hilton Salt Lake City Center)
Kyle Branch and Anthony Edward Butterfield, Chemical Engineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Enrollment in our freshman design laboratory has approximately doubled in the last three years to over 100 students. Such growth and subsequently large class sizes of inexperienced freshmen pose unique problems for laboratory courses. In addition to concerns regarding individualized attention and grading burdens, significant safety and logistic demands must be addressed.

To accommodate our growing number of students, we provide a common lecture section and divide the students into three lab sections, each with its own instructor and TA. Prior to the lab meetings, individual students complete homework using online interactive simulations which mimic the laboratory system that they will encounter. These assignments provide the students with instantaneous feedback and are automatically graded. If students encounter difficulty with the homework, they may view screencast tutorials which discuss the relevant theory and walk them through similar problems. In this way, students come the lab prepared with a basic understanding of relevant topics, reducing the amount of assistance that they will require.

In the lab, students work in teams on open-ended projects. Screencasts are also used to illustrate proper use of the data acquisition equipment used in the course. By working in teams, students are able to help each other and share their knowledge gained with individual assignments, again reducing the amount of assistance required from the instructors and TAs. In the lab, students are required to wear name badges, which identify the equipment on which the student has been trained and certified to use. The training procedures and badges allow instructors to maintain a consistent quality of safety training and easily verify that the student has learned and demonstrated proper operating techniques and safety precautions. Using these methods, we have been successful in safely managing our doubled student population, without a proportional increase in the teaching burden. Furthermore, in post-course evaluations, student responses to the course and its format have remained overwhelmingly positive.


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