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Our first instalment of CDTL Brief for 2011 is all about the various Teaching Tools our educators use to engage students and stimulate their interest in the subject. Whether commercially procured or developed by the educators themselves, these tools serve to enhance their students’ understanding of abstract concepts and ultimately enrich their learning experience. We are pleased to have colleagues from the medical, science, design and environment as well as engineering faculties share their teaching experiences in this area.

June 2011, Vol. 14 No. 1 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
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Personal Experiences in Teaching Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics
 
Dr Jiang Jianwen
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
 

The module CN2121 “Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics” is a core module for undergraduate students taking chemical engineering. The module provides students with a fundamental knowledge of basic thermodynamic concepts and principles, which can be used in the analysis of engineering thermodynamic problems. Thermodynamics is considered a confusing subject and students usually have difficulty understanding its abstract concepts. In this article, I share my personal experiences in teaching this subject. With an objective towards ultimately engaging my students in active learning, what I essentially do is integrate different components into classroom teaching, such as introducing thermodynamic history, using animations, providing practical examples to illustrate how abstract thermodynamic principles are applied to solve real-life problems, and demonstrating computer applications.

When introducing thermodynamic concepts and laws to my students, I show them images of scientists (e.g. James Joule, Sadi Carnot, Heike K. Onnes, van der Waals, Josiah W. Gibbs) who proposed these concepts and developed the laws, and tell them about the related historical background. I think that knowing the scientific history behind the theories can enhance students’ interest and curiosity in the subject. In particular, when I lecture about heat engines and the second law of thermodynamics, I share with students photos of heat engines I took at the Science Museum in London (see Figure 1). By observing the collection of a large number of heat engines from the 19th to the 21st century, students become enthusiastic and eager to learn more about heat engines and the thermodynamic principles involved.

Figure 1. An old heat engine. From the Science Museum in London.

In addition, I try to use animations to elucidate abstract concepts. Considered virtual experiments, animations can efficiently capture students’ attention and lead to a better conceptual understanding. For example, when I introduce the different forms of energy, students can easily understand potential and kinetic energies, but are not able to develop a logical understanding of internal energy. Faced with this challenge, I use Figure 2 to elaborate on the dynamic motion of water molecules and the associated internal energy. From this animation, students’ intuitive understanding of the abstract concept of internal energy is substantially enhanced. I also use Figure 2 to explain the concept of phase equilibrium. By visualising the co-existing solid, liquid, and vapour phases as well as the molecular motion, students gain a good understanding of the fact that an equilibrium state is static in the macroscopic scale while being dynamic in the microscopic scale. With the aid of animation, the classroom atmosphere is made more lively and students find it much easier to grasp confusing concepts.

Figure 2. Water molecules in solid, liquid, and vapour phases (the dynamic motion cannot be seen here). Source: Petrucci, R.H., Harwood, W.S. and Herring, F.G. (2002). General Chemistry, 8th Edition, Prentice-Hall.

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Inside this issue
Using Routine Workplace Audits as Educational Tools: Teaching Hand Hygiene to Medical Students
The Use of Simulation in Paediatric Undergraduate Education
The Examination Library Folder (ELF): A Courseware to Manage Examination Questions
Personal Experiences in Teaching Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics
Using Full-sized Construction Models to Teach Construction Technology