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Listen to an interview with Michael Prince, professor of chemical engineering

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- Three Bucknell University professors will share in the bulk of a four-year, $500,000 undergraduate education grant from the prestigious National Science Foundation to study and devise educational solutions to counter misconceptions in the engineering sciences.

"All of us are working on ways to both uncover and basically repair important student misconceptions in the fields of engineering that we teach," said principal investigator Michael Prince of the research that got underway at Bucknell this semester. Many engineering students come to college with misconceptions about basic concepts and principles that affect their learning and must be corrected, Prince said.

Bucknell's portion of the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant is $364,000. The remainder of the collaborative research grant will go to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo.

Margot Vigeant, Katharyn Nottis
At Bucknell, Prince, a professor of chemical engineering, is working with co-principal investigators Margot Vigeant, associate professor of chemical engineering, and Katharyn Nottis, associate professor of education. Nottis will provide expertise regarding the measurement of learning and the design of instruments to measure that learning.

The collaborative research NSF grant funds the second phase of a pilot program through the year 2011 to develop inquiry-based activities to repair specific student misconceptions in areas deemed as critical.

The program seeks to fill misperception gaps in eight areas of the thermal and transport sciences, including heat transfer and fluid mechanics, through the development of educational materials that will be used with chemical engineering students at Bucknell and partner schools to verify outcomes with a diverse pool of students.

Partner schools
Bucknell's partner schools include the University of Tennessee, University of Maryland-Baltimore, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the Colorado School of Mines. 

The targeted misconceptions, judged essential in understanding the underlying science and, at the same time, difficult to master, were identified by a panel of 30 experts from a variety of institutions.

Another aspect of the grant research is to refine and test learning modules with diverse chemical engineering students at the partner schools where there will an emphasis on outreach to under-represented student populations. "The goal is to both attract and retain a more diverse pool of engineering students," said Prince.

General approach
According to the NSF grant proposal, "If successful, the proposal will provide evidence of a general approach that can form the basis of educational materials to address a broad range of persistent misconceptions in engineering science."

The resulting educational materials will be disseminated through an on-site faculty workshop, an instruction manual with inquiry-based activities, and supplementary instructional aids.

Contact: Office of Communications

Posted Oct. 31, 2007