The Challenges of Promoting and Assessing for Conceptual Understanding in Chemical Engineering


  • Jennifer M. Case University of Cape Town
  • Duncan M. Fraser University of Cape Town


This paper reports on students' experiences in a chemical engineering course that had been restructured to promote conceptual understanding.  Some students did demonstrate the desired conceptual approach to learning, but others made use of either an algorithmic or an information-based approach.  These "nonconceptual" approaches and the lack of a shift toward a conceptual approach were shown to be associated with students' perceptions of a highly time-pressured educational environment.

Author Biographies

Jennifer M. Case, University of Cape Town

Jennifer Case obtained her BSc (Hons) degree in Chemistry from the University of Stellenbosch, after which she taught for a few years in a high school. She became interested in the field of educational research after earning an  MEd degree at the University of Leeds, and she currently serves as the Educational Development Officer in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town. She has recently completed her PhD degree through Monash University, where she undertook a research project on student learning in second-year chemical engineering.

Duncan M. Fraser, University of Cape Town

Duncan Fraser holds degrees of BSc and PhD, both from the University of Cape Town, where he has been lecturing since 1979. He has taught a wide range of courses, from first year to fourth year, including mass and energy balances, thermodynamics, transport phenomena, solid-fluid operations, optimization, process control, and design. His primary research interests are in engineering education and process synthesis.