The designs of the physical spaces in which we teach have been shown to impact classroom dynamics and student outcomes. This interface between space and pedagogy becomes particularly important in interactive, hands-on, and project-based learning environments. Several models to enhance such environments have been implemented throughout STEM departments, but solutions particular to chemical engineering departments require additional examination.
We have been teaching a chemical engineering design laboratory, primarily directed towards our first year students, over the past six years at the University of Utah. This course was initially taught in a lecture hall and a series of satellite labs, centered around the space used for a unit operations courses. Due to the first-year course’s success in achieving learning outcomes and its positive reception by students, we have been able to design and build a combined laboratory, instructional, and maker space specifically meant to facilitate early- and mid-curriculum hands-on project-based learning. For the past three years this first-year course, and several mid-curriculum projects have moved into this space, along with multiple senior capstone projects, bringing about intercohort interactions and developing a social hub for the department, as well as facilitating course activities.
In this work, we report on the detailed design of this learning environment, and the lessons learned in the creation of such a multi-use space, specifically for the needs of chemical engineering students and curriculum. We report on how the transition of our first-year design course to this new layout appears to have impacted multiple metrics: student trainings and laboratory skill acquisition, student course performance, team evaluations, course and instructor evaluations, and more. Finally, because the space combines a wet lab, makerspace, and design hall, and activities within range from students socializing to course laboratory activities, safety concerns are unique. We report in this work how general safety and specific equipment trainings may be effectively managed.
Results suggest that significant gains have been realized in student outcomes, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and the results of this work may be used to aid in design of interactive, project-based learning environments for chemical engineering curriculum.
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