Practical Topic Coverage

Chapter 38 - Educational Concepts and Models for the Field of Instrumentation - Advice for Teachers

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Nearly every technical course teaches and tests students on definitions, basic concepts, and at least some form of quantitative analysis. If you really intend to prepare your students for the challenges of a career like instrumentation, however, you must cover far more than this. The following is a list of topics that should be represented in your curriculum every bit as prevalently as definitions, basic concepts, and math:

  • Qualitative analysis of instrument systems (e.g. “Predict how the control system will respond if the flow rate increases”)
  • Qualitative analysis of processes (e.g. “Predict what will happen to the pressure in reactor vessel R-5 if valve LV-21 closes”)
  • Spatial relations (e.g. mapping wires in a schematic diagram to connection points in a pictorial diagram)
  • Evaluating the validity of someone else’s diagnosis of a problem (e.g. “The last instrument technician to examine this system concluded the problem was a shorted cable. Based on the data presented here, do you agree or disagree with that conclusion?”)
  • Identification of safety hazards and possible means of mitigation
  • Documentation, both creating it and interpreting it
  • Basic project management principles (e.g. scheduling of time, budgeting material and fiscal resources, limiting project scope, following through on “loose ends”)
  • Mental math (e.g. approximate calculation without the use of computing equipment)
  • Evaluation of real-life case studies (e.g. students read and answer questions on industry accident reports such as those published by the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board)

These topics can and should be an explicit – not implicit – part of theory and lab (practical) instruction alike. I do not recommend teaching these topics in separate courses, but rather embedding them within each and every course taught in an Instrumentation program. By “explicit” I mean that these topics should be scheduled for discussion within lesson plans, included within student homework questions, appear as actual questions on exams, and individually demonstrated during labwork.