Conceptual Modeling Enables Systems Thinking in Sustainable Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Leonie Engeline Krab - Hüsken, Linlin Pei, Pepijn G. de Vries, Saskia Lindhoud, J.M.J. Paulusse, P. Jonkheijm, Albert S.Y. Wong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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This study aims to equip students with conceptual modeling skills to address compelling 21st-century challenges in chemistry and chemical engineering education. System-based concept mapping is a critical competence for analyzing global, often complex, problems. We examined how conceptual modeling could scaffold practical experimental design, transitioning from problem identification to testable hypotheses. We set up a project in which first-year undergraduates in chemical engineering work in groups of 5–6 students. Their task was to develop concrete hypotheses for assignments that center on finding sustainable solutions for polluted environments. A set of educational roles (i.e., lecturers, tutors, learning assistants, educational specialist, and project coordinator) were implemented to ensure that students could accomplish their main learning outcome; that is, to become familiar with the academic way of thinking and apply critical thinking skills as a team. Interviews were conducted after the project was finished and revealed that, while conceptual modeling helped students to structure their ideas (i.e., to learn how to design research questions, incorporate interventions, and test models), developing hypotheses remains a challenging task. Our findings brought us to the recommendations for teaching conceptual modeling in the curriculum rather than at the project level, allowing students to progressively transition from understanding and applying concept mapping in their first year into creating solutions within the context of solving complex real-world problems in the final year of their bachelor’s degree. The collaborative learning environment and project format employed in this work could spark new ways to teach science that facilitates systems thinking in chemistry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4577-4584
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of chemical education
Issue number12
Early online date10 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2023


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