Evaluation of Course to Date
The course has been taught twice, with a total of six lecture and eight lab sections, as of the writing of this paper. Student course evaluations definitely indicate that students enjoy the course, overall, and are starting to appreciate the need for chemistry in their engineering careers. Evaluations also show that student perception of integration of disciplines improved significantly between the first and second years. Labs continue to be the most popular element of the course, overall.
After the first year, as we learned the pitfalls we made many minor adjustments. Students were generally content to have two instructors. They quickly adapt to varying expectations of different faculty, and have commented that they actually enjoy the variety. There were some administrative challenges to work out. For instance, it was necessary to designate a central location for handing in all papers, since students were continually confused about which instructor to give assignments to, and papers were sometimes lost. We scheduled the course so that students were working on homework with about a one-week delay to the lectures, which meant that the instructor in the classroom was usually not the one who assigned the homework currently being worked on (see Table 1). This caused the unforeseen benefit of starting to train first-year students about professionalism in work habits. The burden was on them to be organized, keep track of office hours, and plan ahead for help.
Students initially saw the course as two distinct courses. As units have been more closely linked, this problem is fading. We have experimented with joint test questions, and more closely linking the materials studied in the chemistry and materials science labs.
Initial trends in first-year student retention data provide strong support for the new course. Previously, first-year students took Introduction to Engineering and the first course in general chemistry (which was typically quite unpopular) first semester, followed by an Engineering Design and Communications course, which did not challenge most students, in the second semester. In the old curriculum, the engineering department’s first-year-to-sophomore retention rate was relatively low and declining, sinking to approximately 72% in the last few years before our curriculum change. The new integrated chemistry course, which replaced Engineering Design and Communications in the second semester of the first year, has been taught twice and retention rates have increased to about 92%. This course is apparently a significant factor in the improved retention, although we cannot prove it directly. However, we have been unable to identify any other relevant changes during that time period. Faculty had already observed that the lack of challenging content in the previous (now eliminated) course was a problem, which helped to initiate the change to this new course. Combined with the assessment data which indicates students are very satisfied with the new course, we are inclined to attribute most of this improved retention to this curriculum change.
Qualitatively, faculty have found the new course to be a success. Students engage the materials science content more enthusiastically and deeply when it is clearly explained by the underlying chemistry. Students find chemistry less mystifying and frustrating when it is linked to practical applications.
Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education