polymers, a filled neat polymer, or a filled polymer blend. The use of polymer materials requires students to immediately apply some of their chemistry knowledge, and allows them to see concretely how the chemistry of the different materials results in differing properties. Although the project is challenging (especially for a first-year course) many students have said that they appreciated they project, that they learned a lot, or that it was the best part of the course because it helps them to understand how the course material comes together. Thus, engineers are motivated to learn chemistry when they see the relevance of chemistry to engineering.
The Laboratory Experience
The laboratory has been essential to the success of this new course. Evaluations of the previous materials science course indicated that lack of a regularly scheduled lab was a serious shortcoming. Students felt the course material was too theoretical and not relevant to real life. The occasional lab or demonstration in the old course was always mentioned by students as being the high point of the course. Incorporating chemistry into the new course (including some chemistry labs) presented an opportunity to create materials science labs.
The labs are essential for those who are hands-on learners. We believe this has improved retention of a certain set of students who were previously drifting away from engineering, long before the engineering lab experiences of the junior and senior years. The labs illustrate and expand on concepts covered in lecture. In fact, student evaluations specifically mentioned that certain concepts only made sense after the lab.
The labs provide an opportunity to include non-traditional materials in the course. For example, although the course does not have room to cover concrete during lectures, this would obviously engage the prospective civil concentration students. Therefore, in the lab students make concrete batches and subsequently test the strength, studying the effect of different mix compositions.
Lastly, the labs are integrative whenever possible. For instance, one week the students synthesize polymers in a chemistry lab. The next week in the engineering lab, they test the mechanical properties of polymers. One week they study crystal structure in the chemistry lab, another week they test mechanical properties of metals.
Having a regular course jointly taught by faculty from two departments was a novel model for Calvin College that presents advantages and challenges. We chose to arrange a firm lecture schedule, assigning each day to an instructor. Then, even if one person gets behind, the other person will return on the appointed day. This was essential for planning.
Administratively, each instructor gets half the credit for teaching the course. However, the instructor is teaching the full course worth of lecture (up to three sections), plus labs (up to four sections), in some weeks. Other duties tend to get behind in the overloaded weeks, but on the positive side, the split teaching provides “rest periods” where one instructor can step back, refresh, and reorganize. Alternating lectures and labs between instructors each week, as much as possible, relieves some of this burden of unbalanced workloads.
Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education