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ChE Classes during COVID-19

Teaching and learning online during the pandemic.| Medium Read
Enlargeimage of ChE 360 presentations online

In response to the worldwide spread of COVID-19, the University of Michigan canceled all classes and events on March 12, 2020 for the rest of the term. Starting March 16, all classes were taught remotely using a variety of alternative formats. ChE faculty and their student instructors were able to continue with their classes by recording lectures, meeting with students online for office hours, posting exams online, and creating virtual forums for the students to give their final presentations. The University made the decision later to teach spring and summer classes remotely as well.

In the Q&A below, two thermodynamics (ChE 330) instructors talk about how they are working with students remotely, with some feedback from three students about how they are adjusting to learning online. Directly following the 330 responses are also a few details about how other ChE instructors are teaching their classes online.

ChE 330-Chemical Engineering & Engineering Thermodynamics
Assistant Professor Andrej Lenert

Eileen Li (EL) and Hani Elhasan (HE), both undergraduate instructional aides, explain how the teaching assistants in ChE 330 are working with the students remotely. In addition to the online class meeting descriptions below, Professor Andrej Lenert is posting lectures weekly with a schedule what students need to watch by the end of the week.

Enlargeimages of Eileen Li and Hani Elhasan
IMAGE:  Eileen Li and Hani Elhasan

How are you connecting with students online?

EL: We have transitioned all of our current teaching practices online to maintain as much consistency as before. We have maintained our Sunday review sessions, discussions, and office hours through BlueJeans and Google Hangouts. We hope to make the transition as seamless as possible.

HE: When we hold office hours on Google Hangouts, we have separate Hangouts for each of the three problems that the students can use to talk with one another. A Google document with a queue allows the instructor to call on students individually and answer their questions. Additionally, the Breakout Rooms feature in BlueJeans allows us to form student groups during the review sessions to help simulate a classroom environment as much as possible.

How successful do you think your online efforts are?

EL: I think our efforts so far have been good. Students have really enjoyed that we are still doing office hours, and many of them have been very engaged in the material. In my position, I’ve been seeing a lot of consistent faces at the Sunday review sessions, which has been really nice.

HE: I personally think we’ve been successful going fully remote. It was an adjustment at first, considering we had to learn the new technology and come up with a new course plan, but there is a large proportion of students still very much engaged in the course.

What are some negatives and positives you have experienced in teaching remotely?

EL: It’s been really uplifting and encouraging to see students leaning on each other for help and holding each other accountable for material. It’s also really cool to see the potential of technology to translate such an interactive class to an online format but still be able to preserve the interpersonal relationships! However, it is harder to interact with the students directly.

HE: I’d say some positives about this whole situation are seeing students still look to collaborate with one another and stay engaged in the course. I still hear about students who are video chatting with one another on the homeworks and think it is a good sign that they continue to ask questions. One negative is that, in this overwhelming time, some students may fall behind, which is unfortunate because, as instructors, we are limited in ways we can reach out and help.

Comments from our ChE 330 students


Other Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Courses

ChE 360-Chemical Engineering Laboratory
Lecturer Laura Hirshfield

Regular class meetings were canceled just as the second major project was starting. The ChE 360 instructors continued with their informal work plan presentations using BlueJeans. Some groups had time in the lab to collect preliminary data but others did not so the work plans were generally changed to theoretical/conceptual information that they could get from the theory and manual. The 360 instructors provided students with legacy data for the second project to analyze with adjusted objectives. Final presentations took place the week of April 6th virtually. The technical communication instructors will still be giving feedback on draft presentations for each group before the final presentations.


EnlargeChE 460-Thurs-Reactor-
ChE 460-Chemical Engineering Laboratory II
Lecturer Saadet Albayrak-Guralp

The final 460 lecture went out to students on BlueJeans and was posted also on Canvas, U-M’s learning management tool,  for the students to view at their convenience. The third project for CHE 460 was not completed before classes ended so the instructional team continued to give data to help the students with the scale-up and costing of their unit operation equipment. The presentations were entirely online this term. The lab groups presented remotely as a group; one student was responsible for the presentation progress and the other students took turns giving their parts of the presentation. Most were done via BlueJeans.

Note from Chris Barr, Instructional Lab Supervisor, about our labs:

With the semester drawing to a close, the chemical engineering lab instructional faculty and staff are starting to look towards fall. While it seems terrifying to think that we may have to deal with remote labs during the fall semester, it is important that we plan for all possibilities. Keeping things status quo for “normal” fall prep will depend on getting access to the physical lab space by July. Recently, we have been considering ”what do we need the students to get out of the labs” and “how can we do that in a variety of what-if situations” while continuing to deliver our usual level of educational excellence at Michigan.

I have been attending weekly “virtual communities of practice” for lab instructors as part of an initiative led by the AIChE Education Division. In these sessions, lab instructors from US ChE departments have been meeting to talk about issues that arose during the quick transition to remote teaching and to share ideas about best practices from this semester and resources for our future planning for lab classes.

ChE 487-Chemical Process Design
Henry Wang and Lecturer Andy Tadd

Students continue to work on their design projects in the process design course. Andy Tadd and Professor Henry Wang moved their meetings with students online but most of the groups were already meeting with their industrial mentors (>90% of the mentors are ChE alumni). The final four lectures were presented online via Blue Jeans. There were no changes in projects or deliverables.

ChE 489-Chemical Product Design II
Lecturer Laura Hirshfield

Because students create prototypes in the lab in the product design course, this course had started wrapping up when the University canceled classes. The students’ projects were chemical-based, so they couldn’t take them home to complete them. The mid-semester report, which was due last week, became their final report. Laura Hirshfield reports that the students had made excellent progress on their prototypes by early March. Although the annual Design Expo, where groups display posters with their findings, is canceled this year, the students will have the option of creating a poster for extra credit that may be selected to post in the H.H. Dow hallway outside of the CHE 489 lab for the next year.

Glossary of Teaching/Learning Technology Terms

BlueJeans is a cloud video conferencing. Users can hold live video calls, webinars, conference calls, and online meetings.

The faculty in all ChE courses use Canvas. Canvas is typically used in the lab classes (360, 460, and ChE 489) to post assignments, lab manuals and memos, grades, and other resources that the students need as well as announcements for information and updates. Students also typically upload assignments to Canvas where the instructors/ GSIs grade the assignments digitally. Canvas is a replacement for C-tools (many of you probably remember it).

GroupMe brings group text messaging to every phone. It allows users to send direct messages and group messages from mobile devices. You can also use the app as a one-stop shop for interacting with other.

An iClicker is a radio frequency device that allows a student to anonymously respond to questions the instructor poses in class. This lets student and instructor quickly know how well you understand the lesson material.

Piazza is a chat room designed to simulate real class discussion. Students can post questions and collaborate to edit responses to these questions. Instructors can also answer questions, endorse student answers, and edit or delete any posted content.


image of ChE 360 presentations online
images of Eileen Li and Hani Elhasan
ChE 460-Thurs-Reactor-
Portrait of Sandy Swisher


Sandy Swisher
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Chemical Engineering

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