EFFICIENT PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT OF FIELD SITE VISITS IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING UNDERGRADUATE STUDIES
Field site visits to industries have been traditionally included in the curriculum of engineering undergraduate studies around the world. This kind of activity gives students a concrete idea of how an industrial process is carried out, thus gaining a greater insight into their future profession. Besides, they can realize new career opportunities, and be introduced to prospective employers [1, 2]. A similar approach to practical learning and increased interaction with industry professionals has been recommended in other areas of study, such as marketing or teacher education [3, 4].
When field site visits are included, the course content has to be customized in order to adequately prepare the students, and assure optimum learning results. This paper describes the planning of field site visits within the context of an undergraduate Bioprocess Engineering course, with a special focus on the use of web-based technologies and collaborative learning strategies, as well as the final assessment of the experience.
First of all, the industries to be visited have to be selected, based on criteria such as type of activity, size, economic relevance and location. Administrative aspects need also to be addressed in advance. Two or three days field trips including visits to several industries are specially interesting, since they allow the students to reflect on the similarities and differences between diverse industrial processes.
The selected industrial sectors are taken into account when designing the course. Lectures should include examples from the companies and industries to be visited whenever possible, and allow time for discussion. Students are given individual or group reading assignments to prepare for the site visits. Also, electronic discussion boards are a useful teaching tool: suitable discussion subjects are posted by the teacher, in order to promote the online exchange of information and opinions between the students. Videos can be shown, and in-class exercises are designed for each visit, including aspects such as flow diagram evaluation, mass balances, plant layout development, estimation of operating costs, safety assessments, etc. It is especially interesting that the students prepare a number of questions to be posed during the visit, which will be also posted in the electronic discussion board, in order to avoid duplication.
A follow-up writing assignment is proposed, in the form of a journal where the students reflect on the experience. A survey is given at the end of the course to measure student perceptions of the experience, and the results support the usefulness of the activity.
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