Engaging students in Eco Design through project-based teaching

bamboo-thumbnailMaterials educators at undergraduate level consistently raise the concern: how can we engage students in learning about materials?

Engaged students learn more and are more enjoyable to teach, and project-based teaching inspires students across engineering, design, and scientific degrees. It appeals to their sense of curiosity, integrates their knowledge and helps them to learn professional skills such as teamwork, communication, and project management.

Eco design and sustainable development form an increasingly important part of degree courses. The Eco Audit tool in CES EduPack helps students model a product and assess its environmental impact and cost during design. It is purposely not a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) tool, but something quick and easy to set up to explore scenarios. This facilitates project-based work in class. The student either downloads or builds a bill of materials for a product, detailing the composition and quantities of the components, and how the product is processed, transported and used.

Educators and students are free to analyze the model, as all of the equations used and data sources are listed in the help menu – such discussions are very welcome in this relatively new field and everyone can learn from them.

Eco data, such as embodied energy or carbon footprint of materials, is as fully referenced and accurate as possible – unlike mechanical property data, eco data is not based on thousands of physical tests – and students are advised on how to use eco data sensibly. Exercises using Eco Audit projects highlight that data with some inherent uncertainty can still be used in decision making as long as you can quantify the uncertainty.

Many projects are formed around the idea of assessing a product, suggesting redesigns, and making comparisons. Students can quickly see the pros and cons of a product change from both an environmental and cost perspective, they see which aspects of design have the greatest impact on the environment, and they can focus their efforts on making the greatest difference. At the same time, they must be aware of the cost implications and argue for their design in a business context.

bamboo bike

A bamboo mountain bike created by Paul Eason’s students at the University of North Florida. Photo: Paul Eason

Paul Eason, of the University of North Florida, has presented conference talks on how project work using CES EduPack supports the students’ achievements of many of the learning outcomes in the US ABET Accreditation system, for example the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context. His senior capstone design students use CES EduPack for the environmental assessment of their projects, and one of most popular was to design and construct a bamboo mountain bike.

Paul says: “CES EduPack helps to promote environmental awareness and life-cycle thinking. We use it for self-directed learning and as a resource in open-ended design.”

To make smart decisions using the results from CES EduPack you need to understand the data, how accurate it is and what it can and can’t tell you. This critical thinking is encouraged through exercises and case studies.

Project-based teaching facilitates self-learning, and students explore real-life scenarios in the evolving field of eco design based on a wealth of data. Such projects help build the skills necessary to be a good engineer.

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