Personalized, experiential, and open! Chemical Engineering turns challenge into opportunity to take learning to the next level!

Monday, May 9, 2022
Picture and diagram of Distillation Lab.

The Department of Chemical Engineering is proud to announce the creation of a modular, open educational resource (Distillation Laboratory) for deep learning of chemical engineering concepts. This resource allows users of all levels to explore, simulate, learn, and test their knowledge at their own pace.

As the world experienced the pandemic starting in early 2020, the University of Waterloo, like many other universities pivoted to remote teaching. University of Waterloo has been doing distance/online learning for over 50 years through the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL), with which the Department of Chemical Engineering has collaborated before the pandemic on various projects. Assessing the impact of the pandemic on student learning and experience, especially in a laboratory setting, three chemical engineering educators saw the opportunity to create a unique, experiential, and personalized learning approach that would benefit students and instructors around the world!

Augmenting state-of-the-art labs with virtual reality and simulation technologies to enable deep learning

The industrial process of separation of a binary liquid mixture into its constituents is the quintessential application of chemical engineering concepts and a cornerstone of the training of undergraduate chemical engineering students in Canada and across the world. University of Waterloo’s Chemical Engineering Department has Ontario's only pilot-scale distillation column in one of its labs. In-depth exploration of this real-world process in a laboratory setting is typically reserved for students in the final year of study after a host of fundamental concepts and theoretical principles have been taught. The opportunity to learn these concepts and principles through reflection on “doing” is absent in this linear approach.

With funding from eCampus Ontario, Professors Eric Croiset and Marios Ioannidis and Senior Laboratory Instructor John Zhang set out to integrate a 360o virtual tour of their continuous distillation pilot plant with high-fidelity process simulation and multimedia. The result is an educational resource that permits versatile and interactive exploration of the content by students at various levels in the Chemical Engineering Program. Different elements (text, diagrams, embedded video, interactive knowledge checks, process simulation, virtual exploration of components and parts, and design exercises) combine to create an authentic learning experience that accommodates all learning styles.

It takes two flints to make a fire

To build this unique educational resource, the three chemical engineering authors relied on close collaboration with a large CEL team of professionals. While the core CEL team was composed of Antonina Joukova (Instructional Media Developer), Anisha Kuppa (Quality Assurance/LMS Specialist), and Felicia Pantazi (Online Learning Consultant), approximately 30 other people from CEL and other departments (ITMS Studio, Engineering Computing) were involved in the production (e.g., copyright specialist, usability/user experience assessment, AODA review, image description writers, videographer and video editor, panorama photographer, etc.)

Aldo Caputo, Director of CEL commented,

As we emerge from the pandemic, we will likely see greater use of digital learning strategies. Taking a team-based approach to the development of these resources will be critical, and this project is an excellent example of how that can be successful.

The effectiveness of the new educational resource is being investigated: a first survey of Chemical Engineering students– to be presented at the 2022 Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA-ACEG22) Conference - indicates that it significantly promotes deep learning in a fourth-year project-based laboratory.    

Click here to explore the module