Author:Chad Curtis, Chemical Engineering, UW Seattle
Abstract:The COVID-19 pandemic has required instructors to implement creative solutions to adapt curriculum for the remote setting. This is particularly true for lab-based courses. Our chemical engineering unit operations course traditionally involves large pieces of equipment such as heat exchangers and pumps. Hands-on experience with such equipment is vital to chemical engineering education whether students enter a career path in industry or academia.
Because the hands-on experience is so crucial, we chose to adapt our labs using miniaturized take-home kits, as opposed to instructors recording labs in-person for students to watch. For example, instead of examining fluid flow driven by a pump, students use gravity-driven flow through a 3d-printed microfluidics device. All experiments can be carried out safely at home on a kitchen counter. While this approach does sacrifice the use of heavy equipment that would be encountered in industry, the fundamental heat and mass transfer concepts at the heart of each lab are clearly demonstrated. Furthermore, we supplemented instruction with app-based simulations and a guest lecture series to make the connection to industry explicit.
Despite students being disappointed in missing out on in-person labs, the majority of students indicated in a mid-quarter survey that the kit adaptations were helpful to their learning (55%, n=22). Guest lectures from representatives in industry and academia received strong positive feedback from students. Two common themes we noted in student feedback were an appreciation for the relevance of coursework to engineering careers and helpful career advice. Furthermore, miniaturizing the unit operations lab will likely be adopted in future in-person settings to economize space.
Lab kits can be widely applied outside engineering disciplines. Instructors must perform a cost-benefit analysis weighing priorities including hands-on experience and direct relevance. Additionally, guest lectures are a low-cost high-reward adaption for the remote classroom.
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