Educational excellence in focus at MERE

After almost two decades in a research-focused role, Dr Zhixi Chen has refocused on education as his primary goal and is using his considerable research and industry knowledge to inform his own teaching and improve the learning experience for students.

Until 2017, Dr Zhixi Chen, a lecturer in the School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering, was a research-focused academic with a relatively small teaching load. However, when UNSW Dr Zhixi Chencreated over 200 new education-focused academic roles, to underscore its focus on educational excellence through UNSW Strategy 2025, Chen was delighted to put his hand up for one of them.

“I have always enjoyed teaching and had a strong interest in educational methodology and improving my teaching skills, even when I was a research-focused academic. This is why I welcome this new education-focused role. It gives me a lot more time to develop courses and think about the best ways to enhance the learning experience and learning outcomes for students in the School,” he says.

“I’m still involved in discipline research but I’m more able to translate the knowledge I’m creating into course content for my students.”

In collaboration with the other education-focused academic in the School, Dr Haleh Rasekh, Chen says they are exploring new ways to employ technology in the teaching process and improve teaching methodologies to more effectively deliver their lectures.

“One of the key tools we have in the School is the Drilling Simulator. It is the same tool used by industry to train drilling personnel and supervisors and we have incorporated it into a variety of undergraduate and post-graduate courses, with topic areas that include drilling equipment and operations, well control, drilling fluids and well intervention,” he continues.

“This tool is very effective for students; it exposes them to industry-standard equipment and means they will graduate already familiar with, and well-equipped for, the real-world work they’ll be doing. We are sure it will vastly improve our delivery of a number of important courses and, with it, the student learning experience.”

Chen says he has been studying and teaching petroleum engineering since 1982. He has held positions at the China University of Petroleum; Jianghan Petroleum University (Yangtze University) in China; and the École Nationale Supérieure du Pétrole et des Moteurs in France. He came to Australia to join UNSW’s School of Petroleum Engineering as a visiting scholar in 1998.

I welcome this new education-focused role. It gives me a lot more time to develop courses and think about the best ways to enhance the learning experience and learning outcomes for students in the School.

Dr Zhixi Chen, Lecturer, School of Minerals and Energy Resources Engineering

“My research has always focused on well drilling technology and reservoir geomechanics in high temperature, high pressure conditions, often up to thousands of metres underground. This includes studying the mechanical and petrophysical properties of rock; wellbore stability and integrity; reservoir stimulation by hydraulic fracturing and acidizing; well planning; drilling fluids and cementing for unconventional reservoirs,” he explains.

“In terms of wellbore stability, the purpose of my research has been to focus on avoiding drilling related failures and to reduce drilling cost. In terms of hydraulic fracturing, my purpose has been to optimise hydraulic fracturing treatment so that the reservoir stimulation is effective towards the production of coal seam gas or shale gases and is also safe for the environment and underground water supplies.” 

Chen’s research has led to significant impacts in optimising the operations of industry and he is currently working closely on projects in Australia and India with UNSW Professor Sheik Rahman, a world-leading researcher in the areas of geothermal energy development from hot rocks, innovative technologies to enhance the efficiency of oil production, and coal seam gas technological advancement and production.

“These projects will feed directly into my teaching so I can give students a clear picture of the major innovations currently at play. By exploring the problems that professional engineers face in the field, I will be able to show students how practical problems are solved on the ground.”

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