Fundamental Research in Engineering Education — Development of Concept Questions and Inquiry-Based Activities in Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer: An Example for Equilibrium vs. Steady-State


  • Margot Vigeant Bucknell University Department of Chemical Engineering
  • Michael Prince Bucknell University Department of Chemical Engineering
  • Katharyn Nottis Bucknell University Department of Education


This study examines the use of inquiry-based instruction to promote the understanding of critical concepts in thermodynamics and heat transfer. Significant research shows that students frequently enter our courses with tightly held misconceptions about the physical world that are not effectively addressed through traditional instruction. Students’ conceptual understanding can be dramatically enhanced through a shift in teaching that incorporates inquiry-based methods. This work seeks to adapt inquiry-based methods to address nine critical concepts in chemical engineering thermodynamics and heat transfer. This paper traces the development of one inquiry-based activity for the equilibrium vs. steady-state concept area from its start as a concept-question to its realization as an activity.

Author Biographies

Margot Vigeant, Bucknell University Department of Chemical Engineering

Margot Vigeant is an associate professor of chemical engineering and associate dean of engineering at Bucknell University. She has taught at Bucknell for 12 years, and is interested in innovative ways to improve conceptual understanding in undergraduate engineering courses, particularly thermodynamics.

Michael Prince, Bucknell University Department of Chemical Engineering

Michael Prince is a professor of chemical engineering at Bucknell University. His current work in engineering education is in student motivation, conceptual learning, assessment, and “best practices” in undergraduate education. He is involved in the annual National Effective Teaching Institute workshop as well as numerous other workshops on active, collaborative, and problem- based learning.

Katharyn Nottis, Bucknell University Department of Education

Katharyn Nottis is a professor of education at Bucknell University. Her interests include educational assessment, statistics, and STEM education. Dr. Nottis has done leading work on teaching in diverse environments, successfully preparing students for work in a wide variety of school settings.