Faculty-led Inquiry into Reflective and Scholarly Teaching (FIRST)


Date of this Version


Document Type



Kievit, Forrest M. "Course Portfolio for Assessing Student Learning Surrounding Biological Examples in BSEN244: Thermodynamics of Biological Systems" (2019). UNL Faculty Portfolios, 126. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/prtunl/126


Thermodynamics is a course required in many engineering disciplines as it covers concepts utilized in many upper level engineering courses. In the Biological Systems Engineering Department at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, this course, in a way, acts as a gateway to the major since this will be one of the first classes where the students must apply and hone their problem-solving skills. This course was developed to allow students in the department to have access to a thermodynamics course that relates to their major area of interest – biological systems. However, many concepts in thermodynamics do not have a good, direct biological correlate that can be used to engage student interest. Therefore, my goal in putting together this portfolio was to assess whether introducing thermodynamics concepts within a biological framework improved student learning. To do this, two separate but related concepts were introduced, one without any biological examples and one with. The students were then quizzed on the concepts at the end of the week they were introduced in class. Overall, the class performed significantly better on the quiz assessing concepts that were introduced within a framework of biological systems. This was most pronounced for students with average performance in the quiz assessing concepts introduced without biological examples, whereas high performing students performed well regardless of how the concepts were introduced. These findings suggest that introducing thermodynamics concepts within the framework of biological systems to Biological Systems Engineering majors improves student learning.