439269 Developing and Assessing an Interdisciplinary Nano ToolsŁ Course Focused on Problem-Based, Hands-on Learning

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Exhibit Hall 1 (Salt Palace Convention Center)
Geoffrey Bothun, Chemical Engineering, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI and Vinka Oyanadel-Craver, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI

An interdisciplinary “nano tools” course, funded by the NSF Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education program, was offered in 2014 and 2015 at the University of Rhode Island to develop nanotechnology concept competences and professional skills in undergraduate students by exposing them to state-of-the-art instruments commonly used in nanotechnology. This course was led by the Departments of Chemical and Civil & Environmental Engineering and offered to STEM majors at the junior and senior level. The objectives were (i) to provide basic knowledge of the principles and operation of nanoscale instrumentations; (ii) to foster problem-based, peer-to-peer learning through research-oriented group projects; (iii) to enhance students’ technical communication skills through presentations, journal-formatted project reports, and online learning; (iv) to enhance student-faculty and faculty-faculty collaboration; and (v) to expose students to societal, ethical, economic, environmental, and entrepreneurial/commercial implications of nanotechnology. These objectives were achieved using an approach that differs from many nanotechnology courses. First, focus was given to three techniques – dynamic light scattering, electron microscopy, and atomic force microscopy – and the underlying physics behind these techniques that permit nanoscale characterization. Second, emphasis was placed on obtaining complimentary information from these different techniques through intense hands-on training. Third, the knowledge and training gained by the students was applied to an independent problem-based research project led by a faculty mentor. Finally, the course objectives were crafted to align with those of ABET. This approach led to a rich educational experience and an in-depth understanding of how properties at the nanoscale relate to those at higher dimensions, and how these properties can be assessed. In this contribution we will describe how this course was developed, provide a summary of assessment results, and discuss logistical and pedagogical challenges that were encountered. We will also describe our strategy for effectively integrating the objectives, ranging from technical knowledge to professional skills to independent research, into a focused course plan.

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