BIOE: Ashim Datta - "Teaching Problem Solving: The Case of Heat and Mass Transfer in Biological Engineering"

Speaker Ashim K. Datta, Professor, Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Date: 2/1/2018
Time: 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

1000 Micro & Nanotechnology Lab, 208 N Wright St, Urbana, IL

Event Contact: Lisa Leininger

Department of Bioengineering

Event Type: Seminar/Symposium

BioE Educational Seminar

(Please note this seminar is on a Thursday in MNTL and the start time is 11:30 a.m.)

"Teaching Problem Solving: The Case of Heat and Mass Transfer in Biological Engineering"


Bio-related engineering students are different, as seen over space and time. Relevance to applications carries more weight for them as we try to engage them. I would like to share my experiences in developing/teaching a core course in heat and mass transfer in Cornell’s broad-based Biological Engineering undergraduate curriculum since 1990, and learn from colleagues at my alma-mater UIUC. Presentation will focus on how (or whether) we can teach problem solving while trying to reach the individual student in a large class. Using a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform, learning resource was developed for teaching problem solving. Each problem solving module is divided into four parts—1) defining the problem, 2) selecting an appropriate approach, 3) implementing the solution, and 4) interpreting the solution. Students consistently show difficulty in step 2: “which formula to use?” Typical textbooks and other resources also do not help the student in this step, making this the primary bottleneck in the student’s problem-solving ability. Student feedback from three years of implementing this problem solving approach will be shared. Students acknowledge that the approach helps them improve their problem-solving abilities in general, beyond the specific transport course, thus critically enhancing their engineering training. From an additional ongoing nationwide project, student data on educational enhancement using simulation will also be shared. Time permitting, experiences in introducing active learning techniques such as think-pair-share, example-based introduction to concepts, variations in stimulus (small demos, video, simulation, PowerPoint/blackboard combination) can be shared.

About the Speaker:

Ashim Datta has been a professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University for the past 31 years. He has developed a core course for biological engineering and related curricula on heat and mass transfer in a biological context and taught it to over 1400 students, majority of the students being interested in biomedical applications. He has also developed and taught a follow-up course on biomedical process modeling for introducing industry-level simulation to engineering undergraduates and has a current project on using simulation to enhance education. His research group has developed a physics-based universal framework to simulate food processing where food is treated as a deformable (swellable/shrinkable) porous medium with multicomponent transport (water, vapor, oil, flavors, etc.).  He is a Fellow of the Institute of Food Technologists and a Weiss Fellow (highest university award) of undergraduate teaching at Cornell University. He got is MS in Agricultural Engineering from UIUC in 1982 and PhD from the University of Florida in 1985.




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