• design education;
  • interactive learning environments;
  • modeling



Process development is a common and critical task for industrial chemical engineers; however, it is difficult to create activities to give students such practice in their university education. Using a computer-based simulation, we have created an authentic, industrially situated process development task that students can complete by applying their foundational knowledge and skills. We present a case study of an expert's solution to this task, which is compared with those of higher- and lower-performing student teams.


The expert study sought to characterize modeling approaches to this task and to develop a set of target competencies to evaluate evidence of student learning as a guide to assessment.


This comparative case study used ethnographic methodology to capture descriptions of the models and strategies that an expert and two advanced undergraduate student teams employed.


We categorized the expert solution into steps of information gathering, problem formulation, and iterative modeling and experimentation. We identified fourteen expert competencies and used them to assess two sample student solutions. Each student solution contained some expert competencies; a higher number of expert competencies are evident in the student team that had been previously identified as higher performing.


The framework demonstrates constructive alignment of an authentic project task with evidence of student learning to evaluate the competencies students develop. This model example can be extended to other computer-enabled learning environments and, more generally, to capstone projects and other types of open-ended project work.