General chemistry laboratory for engineers : a research-based approach : a research-based approach
Sorey, Timothy Lowell
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Changes made in requirements to the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology in 2000 have made it possible for several engineering curricula to take one semester of a two part general chemistry series. At Montana State University - Bozeman engineering majors constitute just over 37% of the total 850 students per year in the first term general chemistry population. The single-semester engineering curricula enroll 88% of the engineering students. These students receive an incomplete survey of general chemistry, missing important topics such as equilibrium and kinetics, acids and bases, and electrochemistry that are taught in the second semester. In 2001, discussion was initiated between the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Dean and Department Heads of the College of Engineering to identify learning objectives and chemistry content important to engineering students. Current learning and teaching theories were used to develop an original laboratory learning approach that supported these objectives. Next, innovative measurement technology was integrated for students' use in gathering experimental data. These materials were tested, evaluated, and refined during MSU freshman labs and in-service technology training for Montana science teachers. The development of this general chemistry lab curriculum for these engineering majors supports both national science education goals and those of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. This curriculum employs the latest in microcomputer-based technology and guided-inquiry approaches to learning. This innovative approach fosters engineering track students' development of tools and skills necessary for critical thinking and problem solving. Engineering students collaborated as research groups to (a) design and conduct experiments, (b) discuss and evaluate data, (c) prepare and write lab reports, and (d) present an oral report to their peers. This approach creates a research environment for students to connect chemistry in the context of real-world engineering applications. Not only did the treatment group (N=70) outperform their fellow engineering students in lecture exams and quizzes, but over a four and a half fold increase of enrollment into the second semester of general chemistry was observed. This approach shows promise as a transferable template for other interdisciplinary laboratory curriculum in general chemistry and deserves implementation and further research.