The results of a 2017 comprehensive survey of 70 programs  revealed that the unit ops laboratory course offered during a 6-week summer “Field Session” at the Colorado School of Mines is an outlier from other U.S. programs in many ways. The biggest differences between this course and the typical unit ops course run concurrently with other courses are the immersive experience and the extent and nature of the real-time formative and summative assessments provided. Students and faculty work full- or close to full-time (students ~40-60+ and faculty ~30-40+ hours per week) exclusively on this course. This level of personal interaction & feedback, and the ways in which they are conducted, build connections and community amongst all involved and motivate student engagement and cooperation. This in turn leads to students achieving significant technical and non-technical learning outcomes and the course is recognized by alumni and recruiters as highly effective at preparing students for the workplace. Furthermore, despite the intense pace and depth and breadth of skills covered and assessed in the course, the fail rate is effectively zero.
The course is offered twice each summer, each 6-week session currently accommodating up to 84 students, with a Student-to-Professor ratio of up to 12:1 (yes, 7 faculty per session!). There are also writing instructors, a lab manager, and at least two TA’s working full- to nearly full-time to help manage the course. There is 1 experiment per 6 students and each professor is in charge of 2 experiments. Each student runs 8 of the experiments and repeats the second one as their 9th with additional objectives that their group designs. During week 1 students run one and during weeks 2-5 they run two experiments per week, each with different teams, delivering one oral presentation and one written report per week. Hence, students complete a total of nine summative communication reports, placing this program in the ≤ 11% category of all programs surveyed in 2017 whose students do 9 or more experiments.
In addition to running and reporting on the experiments, students attend workshops on Safety, Graphics, Statistical Analysis, Technical Writing, and Higher-Order-Thinking Skills. For three of the four written reports, students attend separate writing-focused and technical draft reviews. For both reviews the faculty members have read and commented the draft in advance. These 20-45 minutes-long review sessions offer the students a plethora of useful timely feedback prior to summative assessment. This significant and coordinated time investment by both instructors and students is one of the key elements of this format that is difficult to duplicate in a more typically-timed course.
The decades-running highly effective structure and delivery method of this course will be presented along with results from course evaluations, student assessments, and alumni & recruiter surveys. Comparative assessments of a variation of the course in which it was framed in a more creative and inviting friendly-competition manner will also be presented. Many “best practice” elements of this course will be discussed in terms of their portability to the typical semester or quarter timeframe.
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