Threshold concepts in chemical engineering design

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This chapter explores the role of problem-based learning (PBL) in facilitating students’ engagement with design components of a chemical engineering degree at the University of Strathclyde (UoS), where students are required to plan and evaluate a manufacturing process. Teaching staff previously identified issues with students’ abilities to deal with open-ended problems in chemical engineering and to accept open-endedness itself, identifying open-endedness as a threshold concept in design. Work was subsequently undertaken to develop appropriate PBL content to address this threshold concept and associated drop-out rates. A longitudinal programme was engineered to support student learning via a dedicated PBL module, enhancing the students; experience. The benefits of such a programme go beyond the students’ academic career and provide significant impact in achieving success in the real world. The chapter presents findings from this work and builds on the use of threshold concepts in PBL, as introduced in the works of Land and Savin-Baden, relating them to the engineering discipline and reporting on the successful incorporation of PBL activities in early years to help students overcome the liminality that results from open-ended working.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThreshold Concepts in Problem-based Learning
EditorsMaggi Savin-Baden , Gemma Tombs
Place of PublicationRotterdam, The Netherlands
PublisherSense Publishers
ISBN (Print)9789004375116
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2018


  • chemical engineering
  • higher education
  • pedagogy
  • problem-based learning


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