Engaging Students Through an Interactive Mass Balance Fundamentals Demonstration

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Employing mass balance concepts is one of the fundamental approaches to address many of the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges of the 21st century. Of the five stated grand challenges, the incorporation of mass balance principles is central to understanding and resolving four of the five technical challenges while it supports and informs decision making in the fifth. For burgeoning environmental engineers, the understanding of mass balance concepts is foundational for recognizing and solving the complex multimedia environmental problems they will face. Environmental engineering curricula therefore requires students to fully understand and demonstrate proficiency in the application of mass balance concepts. Unfortunately, many students struggle to initially visualize key aspects and understand assumptions used with the mass balance approach. A five-minute demonstration provides a visual, interactive classroom experience that improves understanding and learning for a broad spectrum of students’ learning style preferences. The approach presented in this paper has been successfully used in an introductory environmental engineering course taught predominantly to non-engineering majors as part of a three-course environmental engineering sequence. Current data suggests that the incorporation of this demo improves student understanding of mass balance concepts evidenced by improved quantitative testing scores over the past two years. Though longitudinal data is forthcoming on the efficacy on long term retention, we strive for each non-engineering major in the sequence to be able to more broadly contextualize and solve complex problems using mass balance principles by incorporating a deliberate systematic approach. Indeed, for our students to tackle the grand challenges of this century, they must be able to understand the inherent interconnectedness of global and regional environmental systems.
Mass Balance Principles
Wallen, B. M., & Butkus, M. A., & Sheehan, N. P., & Ng, A., & Pfluger, A. R. (2020, June), Engaging Students Through an Interactive Mass Balance Fundamentals Demonstration Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34542