Enhancing the first year learning experience for Biosystems Engineering students in University College Dublin

Curran, T., Doyle, C., Cummins, E., McDonnell, K. and Holden, N. (2010) Enhancing the first year learning experience for Biosystems Engineering students in University College Dublin. [Conference Proceedings]


This paper outlines the development of a problem-based learning module called the Biosystems Engineering Design Challenge. The focus of the module is on designing and building a working, bench-scale device that solves a practical problem relevant to Biosystems Engineering. It provides an early opportunity for students to learn about engineering design, project management and teamwork. The module aligns well with the academic policy of University College Dublin to introduce alternative teaching and learning strategies compared to the conventional lecture. While the original aim of the module was to enhance the learning experience specifically for Biosystems Engineering students, it was considered beneficial to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach by allowing students from a wide variety of programs to participate. Students are split into teams and meet an assigned mentor each week during a 12-week semester to solve a specified problem with several design constraints. The projects thus far have focused on flood barrier construction, water-driven electricity generation, treatment of gray water from domestic buildings, and biofiltration of malodors from food waste. The student groups are formed in the first week when they meet their mentors and learn about the technical design constraints of the project and tips for good teamwork and time management. The second week provides a focus for literature research followed by brainstorming and evaluation of the key design solutions. A self-assessment is made of the teamwork in the sixth week and more guidance is provided on the requirements for the compilation of reports and posters. Weeks eight to ten focus on device assembly while technical performance is evaluated in the penultimate session. A panel of external technical experts visit the University in the final week to meet the students, mentors and faculty and to view a display of the devices and accompanying posters in the main Engineering building. The assessment criteria includeteamwork, minimization of expenditure, device design, innovation, operational safety, system performance, project journal submission, report writing, poster presentation and appropriate use of biological and recycled materials. Prizes are awarded to the top teams. Students receive individual academic grades based on their contribution following a review by mentors and faculty at the end of the semester. Mentor assessment of students concentrates on meeting attendance, task completion and participation in the team. Student feedback has been very positive. They like a hands-on approach to learning while solving problems within a team environment. Awards for the recognition of teaching excellence have been received from UCD College of Life Sciences and from the American Society for Engineering Education. © American Society for Engineering Education, 2010.


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