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M. Pazos, M.A. Sanromán

University of Vigo (SPAIN)
This work shows the experience of using Problem-Based Learning to the subject Chemical Reaction Engineering that belongs to the Chemical Degree of University of Vigo. In this subject is studying and optimizing chemical reactions in order to define the most optimal reactor design. Hence, the interactions of flow phenomena, mass transfer, heat transfer, and reaction kinetics are of prime importance in order to relate reactor performance to feed composition and operating conditions. Taking into account the aims of Chemical Reaction Engineering, we considered as appropriated learning technique the use of new methodology such as Problem-Based Learning.

In the course, we pretend that the task of teaching is a means of integral formation that facilitates the acquisition of knowledge and the development of critical thinking, concerns and creative and innovative power of the student as well as capable of solving specific problems. In sum, we try to teach students a process as a set of stages and encourage their creativity both in speculative and the practical and technological. The student must seek explanations of phenomena that is before resorting to the general principles and with the help of the teacher, we answer the questions put to it. For appropriate expertise is necessary to try to change their behaviour and encourage their learning activities to focus more on methods than content. In Problem-Based Learning, a professional situation is presented and the students decide their learning objectives and search the information needed for problem solving. They developed skills for search, understanding and analysis of research bibliography, and practice oral presentations.

Problem-Based Learning is a way to improve motivation, thinking, and learning. As is mentioned by Duch et al. [1] “The basic principle supporting the concept of Problem-Based Learning is older than formal education itself; namely, learning is initiated by a posed problem, query, or puzzle that the learner wants to solve”. Generally, different authors [2, 3] have reported that the main tasks for the development of this methodology are: Retrieve the most similar case or cases, Reuse the information and knowledge in that case to solve the problem, Revise the proposed solution, and Retain the parts of this experience likely to be useful for future problem solving.

Several interviews made to students indicate the positive attitude toward using Problem-Based Learning. We verified the total integration of the students into the system, participating and proposing numerous activities. Moreover, we detected that the knowledge of methods, practical applications and the reality of chemical engineering was increased significantly with this methodology.

[1] Duch, J., Groh, S.E., Allen, D.E. (Eds.) (2001). The power of problem-based learning: A practical “how to” for teaching undergraduate courses in any discipline. Sterling Virginia US: Stylus Publishing.
[2] Aamodt, A., Plaza, E. (1994). Case-Based Reasoning: Foundational Issues, Methodological Variations and System Approaches. AI Communications, 7 (1) 39-59.
[3] Althoff, K.D., Aamodt, A. (1996) Relating case-based problem solving and learning methods to task and domain characteristics: towards an analytic framework. AI Communications-The European Journal of Artificial Intelligence, 9 (3) 109-116.