Distinguished Speaker Seminar – Professor Margot Vigeant

“Do we need to understand this, or can we just do it?” Helping Undergrads Get Concepts

Date: November 20, 2020
Time: 1 p.m. PST

Students enter our classrooms with a variety of ideas about how the world works, not all of which are accurate. Even for concepts such as the second law of thermodynamics, where one might expect that students have no preconceived notions, we find that many undergraduate students begin their courses with strong alternate conceptions. Disturbingly, a semester of typical instruction may alter students’ conceptual understanding relatively little, even if they demonstrate the ability to manipulate the relevant equations. In this talk, we’ll discuss the evidence for student learning in a variety of different environments and how our work demonstrates inquiry-based activities can be a useful approach for improving conceptual learning. By using these approaches, we can double the learning gains seen in lecture-only courses. I’ll also discuss our work to make these activities more faculty-friendly and the impact those changes have on student learning.


Margot Vigeant is the Rooke Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bucknell University. She received her B.S from Cornell University and her MS and PhD from the University of Virginia before joining Bucknell’s faculty in 1999. Margot’s broad research area is effective engineering pedagogy, including active-, problem-, project-, and product-based learning, with particular focus on inquiry-based learning to improve conceptual understanding in thermodynamics. She’s also interested in the ways student creativity, particularly in makerspaces, can be used to support active and entrepreneurially-minded learning in technical courses. Margot works to support broad adoption of these effective learning approaches through workshops. She teaches chemical engineering thermodynamics, applied food science & engineering, and capstone design. She is a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and chair of the 2022 ASEE/AIChE Chemical Engineering Summer School.