Comparison of Student Learning in Physical and Simulated Unit Operations Experiments


  • Theodore F. Wiesner,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Chemical Engineering Texas Tech University
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    • Theodore. F. Wiesner, Ph.D., P.E. is an associate professor of chemical engineering at Texas Tech University. His research interests are computer-based instruction, biomedical engineering, and bioprocess engineering. Prior to entering academia, Dr. Wiesner worked in the chemical process industries in the areas of polymer manufacture and wastewater treatment. He earned his B.S. degree from Kansas State University, his M.S. from the University of Houston, and his doctorate from the Georgia Institute of Technology, all in chemical engineering. He is a member of AIChE, ASEE, ACS, the Biomedical Engineering Society, and the Biophysical Society.

  • William Lan

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Educational Psychology Texas Tech University
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    • William Lan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Educational Psychology in the College of Education at Texas Tech University. His research interests include self-regulated learning, student motivation, and analysis of dropout and at-risk students with national databases. He has been a faculty member at Texas Tech University for 13 years since graduating from University of Iowa. He is a member of American Educational Research Association, American Education Research Association, ex-President (1999–2001) and member of Chi Chapter, Phi Beta Delta, the Honor Society for International Scholars, member of Chinese American Educational Research and Development Society (CAERDS), and Member of Teaching Academy, Texas Tech University.

Department of Chemical Engineering, Texas Tech University, Box 43121, Lubbock, Texas 79409-3121; telephone: 806-742-1448; fax: 806-742-3552; e-mail:

Department of Educational Psychology, Box 41071, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas 79409-1071; telephone: 806-742-2338; fax: 806-742-2179; e-mail:


Industries are tending toward computer-based simulation, monitoring, and control of processes. This trend suggests an opportunity to modernize engineering laboratory pedagogy to include computer experiments as well as tactile experiments. However, few studies report the impact of simulations upon student learning in engineering laboratories.

We evaluated the impact of computer-simulated experiments upon student learning in a senior unit operations laboratory. We compared data on control and test groups from three sources: 1) a comprehensive exam over the course; 2) a questionnaire answered by students regarding how well the areas of ABET Engineering Criterion 3 (a-k) were met; and 3) oral presentations given by the students. Our results indicate that student learning is not adversely affected by introducing computer-based experiments. We therefore conclude that, while the tactile laboratory should remain in the engineering curriculum, the pedagogy can reflect the increasing use of information technology in the manufacturing industries without compromising student learning.