M.J. Arévalo, G. Silvero, I. López-Coca

Universidad de Extremadura (SPAIN)
A key aspect of the European Credit Transfer System is that causes, or should cause, a students’ proactive attitude towards their own education. At the same time, it involves a review and modification of the teaching-learning methodologies employed.
In Spain, undergraduate studies from different engineering programs must contain at least 6 ECTS of General Chemistry, which will be directly validated among different branches of engineering. [1] Obviously, the curricula will not be identical, yet the skills acquired in any case will. In particular, in terms of transferable skills, there is little difference between what is expected of graduates in any subject. Indeed, teamwork, problem-solving, lifelong learning and communication are all among top skills for all graduates, all chemical engineering graduates or even all engineering graduates, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters UK, IChemE, and ABET USA, respectively. [2]
Chemistry courses can and should play a leading role in the acquisition of personal skills such as «ability to manage, analyse and interpret experiments», «ability to work effectively as a team», «ability to identify, formulate and solve technical problems» and «ability to apply current knowledge and adapt to emerging applications of mathematics, science, engineering and technology».[3]
The methodology chosen for the teaching-learning of these skills is even more transcendent than the contents themselves: it requires fostering teamwork, problem solving and especially laboratory work, in which the student must take responsibility and an active role, and not just follow an established experimental protocol. [3]
In our experience, a customary practical course has such a structure that the student plays a nearly completely passive role: s/he is given reagents, materials, theoretical background, and so forth, limiting her/his action to reproducing a set procedure; as a result the ability to make connections between concepts and content is not improved. [4]
Problem-based learning (PBL) is a very attractive active methodology in which the student is not provided with content or answers but rather s/he should solve problems autonomously, working in groups. There is strong evidence that PBL promotes a deeper understanding as opposed to the problem-solving approach. [2]
In this work, we have devised and developed a PBL scenario as a means for the teaching-learning of a practical course on General Chemistry for Civil Engineering undergraduates. Students have been presented with the challenge of building a well in scarce resources situation where the quality of the materials used is not guaranteed. They have to solve the various issues involved so that the final requirements for the materials are tested and met.

[1] Real Decreto 1393/2007. Boletín Oficial del Estado, 30-10-2007
[2] Personal Skills in Chemical Engineering Graduates. Grant, C. D. and Dickson, B. R. 2006, Education for Chemical Engineers, Vol. 1, pp. 23-29
[3] Reflexiones sobre los contenidos de la asignatura común de Química en los nuevos grados de distintas ingenierías. Martínez Urreaga, Joaquín and Pinto Cañón, Gabriel. Madrid : Publicaciones ETSI Industriales, 2009. La Química como materia básica de los Grados de Ingeniería. pp. 29-38. 978-84-7484-216-6
[4] Problem solving: Teachers’ perceptions, content area models, and interdisciplinary connections. Meier, S., Hovde, R. and Meier, R. 1996, School Science and Mathematics, Vol. 96, pp. 230-237