Reformulating general engineering and biological systems engineering programs at Virginia Tech

Vinod K. Lohani, Mary Leigh Wolfe, Terry Wildman, Kumar Mallikarjunan, Jeffrey Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In 2004, a group of engineering and education faculty at Virginia Tech received a major curriculum reform and engineering education research grant under the department-level reform (DLR) program of the NSF. This DLR project laid the foundation of sponsored research in engineering education in the Department of Engineering Education. The DLR investigators adopted a spiral curriculum approach to reformulate curricula in general engineering (also called freshman engineering) and bioprocess engineering programs. The spiral curriculum concept recognizes the inherently recursive nature of learning. During this recursive process, students elaborate and strengthen earlier learning, correct misconceptions, develop a more holistic picture of their discipline, and become increasingly self-sufficient as learners. This paper documents the step-wise process that we developed and implemented to rewrite the bioprocess engineering curriculum using spiral theory. Specific examples of learning modules from bioprocess and general engineering are discussed. Assessment approaches and results are presented to highlight the usefulness of such efforts. Adaptation of our spiral curriculum efforts by faculty in other engineering programs to develop a nanotechnology option and ethics spirals is described. We describe lessons learned in three Keywords (i) Patience - Reformulation results may take time to show up, (ii) Diligence - Assessment results are powerful, take these seriously, and (iii) Awareness - Students' perceptions may be difficult to interpret. Finally, we discuss the challenges encountered in our unique cur-riculum reform and engineering education research project and also include a few funding related recommendations for the NSF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11
JournalAdvances in Engineering Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010


  • Bioprocess engineering
  • Freshman engineering
  • Spiral curriculum


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