Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Hands-On Tabletop Units for Addressing Persistent Conceptual Difficulties in Continuity and Frictional Loss in Fluid Mechanics

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Hands-On Tabletop Units for Addressing Persistent Conceptual Difficulties in Continuity and Frictional Loss in Fluid Mechanics

Article excerpt

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With the rapid development of science and technology, and the increasing influence of modern chemical industry in economic development, how to foster excellence in chemical engineering education is becoming a primary focus. Chemical engineering courses contain descriptions and analyses of three-dimensional equipment components and processes which educators can visualize in their mind's eye, however, teaching in the traditional classroom using textbooks and whiteboards without showing students actual examples or physical models to illustrate engineering concepts is no longer appropriate (Philpot & Hall, 2006). There is a need for use of alternative learning strategies particularly for conveying concepts involving application of scientific principles to physical systems. To address this issue some instructors have used computer-animated instruction to create a better learning environment and present fluid mechanics concepts in three-dimensional forms (Faleye & Mogari, 2010). Other instructors have shown that the combination of electronic classroom communication systems with a series of questions and feedback related teaching methods can increase understanding and enthusiasm for the subject (Gerace, Dufresne & Leonard, 1999; Mazur, 1997). Recent results of an implementation that includes a computer simulator connecting students with more realistic engineering experience indicate that simulators increase student motivation, improve student grades, provide interactive learning environments, increase effective problem solving skills, and provide a deeper understanding of engineering concepts (Lee, McNeill, Douglas, Koro-Ljungberg, & Therriault, 2013). These methods help students visualize the principles, enhance understanding and participation, but do not let them experience real chemical engineering operation processes because there is a lack of simple classroom hardware componentry to aid in teaching the subject.

The Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer course at hand is a compulsory professional course for students in chemical engineering. Through interviews we identified persistent gaps and difficulties in understanding several fluid mechanics and heat transfer concepts including those related to flow regime, the mechanical energy balance, venturi meters, straight pipes and bends/fittings, and non-circular channels, even among seniors who have already had the junior level course covering these topics (J. K. Burgher, Finkel, D., Van Wie, B. J., Adesope, O., 2014). Most students either struggled with continuity and pressure drops and associated calculations or were confused about how to apply these concepts.

To address these gaps our approach is to develop miniaturized industrial equipment for use in the standard class room. The equipment has been coined as desktop learning modules (DLMs) and demonstrates many fluid mechanics and heat transfer concepts associated with fluidized beds, orifice meters, venturi meters, tubular, shell and tube and cross flow heat exchangers, and evaporative coolers (Abdul, et al. 2011; J. K. Burgher, Finkel, Adesope, & Van Wie, 2015; Coon, Golter, Thiessen, Adesope, & Van Wie, 2011; Schlecht et al., 2011; Van Wie et al., 2012). An assessment focused on use of the shell and tube heat exchanger, and evaporative cooling DLMs shows in terms of attitude, students prefer the hands-on DLM over lectures (J. K. Burgher et al., 2015; Coon et al., 2011).

Other classroom research has shown success in introducing DLMs in other disciplines and at other universities. For example, our group has extended the approach to civil engineering water resource undergraduate engineering classes at Washington State University and found enhanced understanding of selected open channel flow concepts (Brown et al., 2014). Compared with a control group taught with lectures having a 0.26 gain between pre- and posttest results and 39% competency, students who used DLMs registered a gain of 0. …

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