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USING THE EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING MODEL TO TRANSFORM AN ENGINEERING THERMODYNAMICS COURSE

Margaret Bailey[1] and John Chambers[2]

Abstract - Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) has long been committed to experiential learning within its undergraduate engineering programs. With one of the oldest cooperative education programs in the country, RIT firmly believes in learning through doing. This paper describes how an experiential learning model is also incorporated within the classroom in order to improve student learning within a Thermodynamics course. The experiential learning model can be applied while designing a course to ensure that planned activities give full value to each stage of the process. The methodology is based on an existing educational model which includes four basic stages; active experiences, reflective observations, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Traditionally, a course in thermodynamics is taught in a lecture style which addresses the conceptual phase of the experiential learning model. In this paper, discussions and specific details are presented on how an experiential learning model is used in order to transform an existing thermodynamics course. Preliminary assessment results based on course-end student feedback are included which indicate a high level of perceived learning in the course.

Index Terms – Undergraduate mechanical engineering education, Experiential Learning Model, Thermodynamics, Training Aids

introduction

ROCHESTER INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (RIT) HAS LONG BEEN COMMITTED TO EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING WITHIN ITS UNDERGRADUATE ENGINEERING PROGRAMS. WITH ONE OF THE OLDEST COOPERATIVE EDUCATION PROGRAMS IN THE COUNTRY, RIT FIRMLY BELIEVES IN LEARNING THROUGH DOING. RIT’S MECHANICAL ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT OFFERS AN ACCREDITATION BOARD FOR ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY (ABET) ACCREDITED DEGREE IN MECHANICAL ENGINEERING (ME). EACH FALL, APPROXIMATELY 165 ENTERING FIRST YEAR STUDENTS SELECT MECHANICAL ENGINEERING AS A MAJOR. ALL ME MAJORS ENROLL IN THERMODYNAMICS (ME 413) DURING THEIR THIRD YEAR. LIKE THEIR PEER INSTITUTIONS, RIT HAS THE DESIRE AND REQUIREMENT TO IMPROVE CURRICULUM STRUCTURE, INTEGRATION, AND ASSESSMENT. ACCORDINGLY, THE ABET EC2000 CRITERIA FOR CURRICULAR OBJECTIVES AND CONTENT STATES THE FOLLOWING [1]:

• I.C.2 “(Curricular) objectives are normally met by a curriculum in which there is a progression in the course work and in which fundamental scientific and other training of the earlier years is applied in later engineering courses.”

• I.C.3 “The program must not only meet the specified minimum content but must also show evidence of being an integrated experience aimed at preparing the graduate to function as an engineer.”

In accordance with these criteria, the courses within mechanical engineering form a progression in course work into the study of various topics including thermodynamics and energy conversion systems. Therefore, the courses must be carefully integrated. By taking courses within an integrated curriculum, a student can experience all stages of the experiential learning model described within this paper, on a much broader scale. One method for achieving course integration, which uses a course assessment process, will be discussed within the Course Assessment and Outcomes section of this paper in the context of a thermodynamics course.

This paper also describes how experiential learning models are incorporated within the classroom at RIT in order to improve student learning within a thermodynamics course. The methodology is based on Kolb’s [2, 3] educational model and includes four basic stages; active experiences, reflective observations, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation as shown in Figure 1. Typically the stages or phases occur non-simultaneously and sequentially, although reflective observations can be made at different times throughout the overall model. Varying time durations are required in order to accomplish each stage. Two aspects can be seen as especially noteworthy: the use of concrete, 'here-and-now' experience to test ideas; and use of feedback to change practices and theories [2].

Kolb’s learning model provides an exceptional outline for planning teaching and learning activities [4]. The experiential learning model can be applied while designing a course to ensure that planned activities give full value to each stage of the learning process. Traditionally, a Thermodynamics course is taught in lecture style which addresses the third or conceptual stage of the experiential learning model. As for the first two stages of the model (active experience and reflective observations), upon entering a thermodynamics course, a small subset of students may have had experience working with various types of thermodynamic devices and processes, such as an internal combustion engines. Thus, this subset of students would be entering the course after having accomplished the first stage and perhaps second stages of the learning model.

Figure 1

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING MODEL

HOWEVER, THE VAST MAJORITY OF STUDENTS DO NOT HAVE THIS BACKGROUND AND THEREFORE, THE CLASSROOM IS AN IDEAL SETTING TO INTRODUCE HANDS-ON ACTIVITIES WHERE THE STUDENTS CAN LEARN BY DOING OR EXPERIENCING (STAGE ONE). REFLECTIVE OBSERVATIONS OF THIS EXPERIENCE CAN ALSO BE INCORPORATED INTO CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES OR OUT OF CLASS ASSIGNMENTS. THE PHYSICAL DEVICES OR SIMULATIONS USED TO PROVIDE ACTIVE EXPERIENCES FOR THE STUDENTS MAY ALSO BE APPROPRIATE FOR STAGE FOUR OR ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATION BY ALLOWING THE STUDENTS TO MAKE PARAMETRIC ADJUSTMENTS AND OBSERVE THE EFFECTS. IDEALLY, GIVEN A DIFFERENT SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES, THE STUDENTS WILL BE ABLE TO ANTICIPATE THE POSSIBLE EFFECTS OF THE ACTION.

By creating various types of physical devices related to course concepts, referred to in this paper as learning aids, thermodynamic students are able to actively experience and reflect upon key concepts of the course, rather than simply listening to a discussion or lecture regarding the concepts. Physical devices such as piston/cylinder assemblies, gage/total pressure boxes, temperature/pressure dependence domes, and cutaways of various types of engines, as well as video clips and animations are assets in conveying thermodynamic principals. In this paper, we will discuss the details of using experiential learning model to transform an existing thermodynamics course.

existing Course structure

THE GOAL OF ME 413 IS TO PROVIDE MECHANICAL ENGINEERING STUDENTS WITH PRACTICAL AND RELEVANT ENGINEERING SCIENCE BACKGROUND IN THERMODYNAMICS. THE COURSE ALSO PROVIDES THE GROUNDWORK FOR SUBSEQUENT STUDIES IN ENGINEERING SCIENCES AND COURSES IN ADVANCED ENERGY TOPICS. ME 413 IS DESIGNED TO PROVIDE A SOLID FOUNDATION IN CLASSICAL THERMODYNAMICS THROUGH THE STUDY OF THREE BROAD TOPICAL AREAS INCLUDING PRELIMINARY TOPICS, METHODS AND TOOLS OF ANALYSIS, AND RELEVANT APPLICATIONS. COURSE LEARNING OBJECTIVES INCLUDE:

• Apply conservation of mass, conservation of energy, and the second law of thermodynamics to open and closed systems.

• Apply thermodynamic properties and equations of state for an ideal gas, steam, and refrigerants.

• Analyze the common ideal power generation cycles including the Rankine, Otto, Diesel, Brayton and their respective actual cycles.

• Analyze the ideal and actual vapor compression refrigeration cycle.

• Relate principles learned in thermodynamics with emerging technologies, cycles, and processes.

• Improve engineering problem solving abilities.

In order to assist the student in meeting these learning objectives, topics covered in the course include definitions, pure substances, ideal equation of state, conservation of mass and energy, and the second law as shown on Table I. Each lesson follows a basic lesson plan that is provided to the student at the beginning of class. A sample lesson outline is included as Table 2. Each lesson begins with a review of the previous lesson’s learning objectives. During this review the students are asked to discuss with their team any objective that is not clear. If the team members can not address the question, the team poses the question to the rest of the class and the instructor. The next portion of the lesson includes reviewing the current objectives and designing the lecture based on student understanding of the reading. An attempt is made during each lesson to include a hands-on that students can hold and/or manipulate to enhance active participation. In the sample lesson outlined in Table 2, the students use a piston/cylinder arrangement to explore the concept of pressure above and below the piston.

TABLE I

COURSE TOPICS

|SUBJECT |LSN |

|INTRODUCTION TO THERMODYNAMIC CONCEPTS AND NOMENCLATURE |2 |

|STEAM TABLES |2 |

|IDEAL GAS EQUATION OF STATE AND ENERGY TRANSFER CONCEPTS |2 |

|1ST LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS |6 |

|2ND LAW OF THERMODYNAMICS |3 |

|THERMODYNAMIC DEVICES AND ADIABATIC EFFICIENCIES |1 |

|STEAM VAPOR POWER CYCLES |5 |

|INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES |5 |

|AUTOMOTIVE EMISSIONS |1 |

|GAS TURBINE ENGINES |4 |

|VAPOR-COMPRESSION REFRIGERATION CYCLES |3 |

|REVIEW CLASSES |3 |

|EXAMS |3 |

|TOTAL |40 |

TABLE II

SAMPLE LESSON OUTLINE

[pic]

In order to enhance student learning, several applications are studied in detail including steam power plants, air standard cycles, emissions, and vapor compression refrigeration systems. Because this course is only one quarter long (10 weeks), there are certain topics in Thermodynamics that are not included due to time limitations. Some of the more notable omissions include psychrometrics, air conditioning applications, exergy analysis, transient systems, thermodynamic property relations, chemical reactions, phase equilibrium, and thermodynamics of high-speed gas flow. The textbook used in the course is Moran and Shapiro [5].

The lectures are further augmented by an individual project. The project assignment involves critically reading a technical book, reviewing the book, and presenting the results to the class in an informal setting. The technical books selected cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from artificial intelligence to hybrid vehicle design and energy or transportation infrastructure issues. By their final year in college, most students have written several book reports; however, few engineering majors have written critical technical book reviews. Therefore, the project assignment is supplemented with an attached handout on how to successfully prepare a book review [6, 7]. This summary explains that a critical book review describes not only what a book is about, but also how successful the book is at what it is trying to accomplish. Reviewers answer not only the WHAT but the SO WHAT question about a book. Thus, in writing a critical review, the student combines describing what is on the page, analyzing how the book achieves its goals, and expressing personal reactions. Performance criteria used to assess and evaluate the student’s performance for all requirements associated with the student project are also provided with the assignment.

classroom learning aids

ALL THERMODYNAMIC STUDENTS HAVE SEEN INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES, BUT FEW HAVE EVER SEEN THE INNER WORKINGS OF ONE. AN ENGINE WITH A CYLINDER CUTAWAY CAN BE A GREAT ASSET IN ILLUSTRATING IDEAS SUCH AS PISTON STROKE, VALVE AND SPARK TIMING, COMPRESSION RATIOS, AS WELL AS OTHER INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE PARTS AND PROCESSES TO STUDENTS. IN ORDER TO PROVIDE THIS EXPERIENCE FOR RIT THERMODYNAMICS STUDENTS, AN ENGINE CUTAWAY WAS CREATED UTILIZING A V-6 ENGINE FROM A 1996 CHEVROLET LUMINA (SEE FIGURES 2 AND 3). FIRST THE HEAD AND PISTON WERE REMOVED FROM THE ENGINE BLOCK. AN ANGLE GRINDER WAS USED TO CUT THROUGH THE CAST IRON BLOCK AND HARDENED STEEL CYLINDER SLEEVES. THE VALVES AND VALVE SEATS WERE THEN REMOVED FROM THE HEAD, AND IT WAS CUT USING A MILLING MACHINE. THE ENGINE WAS ASSEMBLED AND A REMOVABLE CRANK WAS ADDED SO THAT STUDENTS COULD SEE THE VALVE AND PISTON MOVEMENT AS THE CRANKSHAFT IS ROTATED.

[pic]

Figure 2

CUTAWAY OF V-6, SPARK IGNITION ENGINE

[pic]

Figure 3

SPARK IGNITION AND GAS TURBINE ENGINES

WHILE FEW STUDENTS HAVE SEEN THE INTERNALS OF A SPARK-IGNITION ENGINE, FAR FEWER HAVE EVER SEEN THE INTERIOR OF A GAS TURBINE ENGINE. RECENTLY, THE AUTHORS CONSTRUCTED A DISPLAY (SEE FIGURE 3) USING A GTD-350 WHICH IS A 400 HORSEPOWER TURBO SHAFT ENGINE FROM THE POLISH MADE MI-2 HELICOPTER. THE ENGINE’S GENERAL LAYOUT IS SIMILAR TO THAT OF THE POPULAR ALLISON 250 GAS TURBINE ENGINE. THE ENGINE IS MOUNTED ON A STAND WITH A DIAGRAM BELOW IT SHOWING THE VARIOUS COMPONENTS, SUCH AS THE COMPRESSOR, COMBUSTOR, AND TURBINE. STUDENTS CAN ALSO CLEARLY SEE THE POWER SHAFT WHICH WHEN MANUALLY TURNED ROTATES THE POWER TURBINES.

In addition to the internal engine training aides, the authors have created a few simple devices that effectively illustrate thermodynamic concepts involving fluid pressure. One such device is a vacuum dome (see Figure 4) which was economically produced (for less than $15) using a water bottle meant for campers and hikers and a scrap vacuum pump found in the storage room of our laboratory. The bottle was outfitted with an air hose nipple and a length of 3/8” air compressor hose. The bottle is then partially filled with water and hooked up to a vacuum pump. The water soon boils and shows students the interdependence of water’s boiling point and pressure.

Another simple device was developed to illustrate the difference between gage and absolute pressure. This time the components used for construction included a 10 gallon fish tank and thin acrylic sheeting (see Figure 5). Two chambers are made inside of the tank, each with a pressure gage. However, the pressure gage for one chamber is inside of the other. In this way, the pressure of one chamber can first be monitored with the gage at atmospheric pressure, and then the pressure is increased around the gage so that the pressure reading drops.

[pic]

Figure 4

VACUUM PUMP SET-UP SHOWS INTERDEPENDENCE BETWEEN SATURATION TEMPERATURE AND PRESSURE

[pic]

Figure 5

ABSOLUTE VERSUS GAGE PRESSURE SET-UP

ASSESSMENT OF EXISTING COURSE BASED ON EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING MODEL

AS DISCUSSED PREVIOUSLY, THE TRADITIONAL THERMODYNAMICS COURSE IS TAUGHT IN LECTURE STYLE WHICH ADDRESSES THE THIRD OR CONCEPTUAL STAGE OF THE EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING MODEL. ME 413 AUGMENTS THIS STAGE WITH THE ADDITION OF PHYSICAL EXAMPLES OF VARIOUS COMPONENTS SUCH AS INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES, GAS TURBINES, PUMPS, TURBINE BLADES, AND COMPRESSORS. THEREFORE, ATTEMPTS ARE MADE TO OFFER OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS TO ACTIVELY EXPERIENCE THE PHYSICAL NATURE OF SUCH COMPONENTS THROUGH ACTIVE STUDENT PARTICIPATION IN DEMONSTRATIONS. IN ADDITION, SIMULATION SOFTWARE AND WEB BASED ANIMATIONS ALSO OFFER OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS TO ACTIVELY EXPERIENCE THE OPERATION OF VARIOUS INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES. THOUGHT PROVOKING QUESTIONING TECHNIQUES ARE INCORPORATED REGARDING THE ACTIVE EXPERIENCES IN ORDER TO ENHANCE REFLECTIVE STUDENT OBSERVATIONS. IN ADDITION, THE COURSE PROJECT (DISCUSSED PREVIOUSLY) WHICH REQUIRES EACH STUDENT TO CRITICALLY REVIEW A TECHNICAL BOOK, ALSO PROMOTES THE PRACTICE OF REFLECTION. DURING THE PROJECT’S FINAL PRESENTATION, EACH STUDENT SHARES THEIR REFLECTIVE OBSERVATIONS WITH THE REMAINDER OF THE CLASS.

The final stage of the experiential learning model involves active experimentation. ME 413 does not include a laboratory segment; however a subsequent Thermal Fluids Laboratory course provides opportunities for students to perform parametric studies on various thermodynamics related applications. In addition, team based sample problems which are distributed during most lessons allow the students to analytically determine the effect of various parameters on the overall system behavior. For example, a sample problem provided during the gas turbine portion of the course requires students to vary pressure ratio and determine the effect on engine efficiency. The gas turbine learning aid is used consistently during this portion of the course as a physical learning aid. The students can visualize the path of the airflow through the engine and begin to question and reflect upon the engine’s intricate configuration.

Through course end student evaluation and review of written comments, the course appears to be achieving its learning objectives. The overall course rating based on the fall quarter class (20 students) of 2003 was a 4.64/5.00. This aggregate score was based on the results of twenty standard course-end evaluation questions administered for every engineering course at RIT including questions regarding the quality and effectiveness of the instructor, clarity of the course objectives, consistency of lesson preparation, adequacy of textbook, etc. The average result for each question ranged between four and five. The overall course rating was the highest among all courses taught within the Mechanical Engineering department during the fall quarter of 2003. In a separate survey, students were asked to assess their competency in achieving the course objectives. Their overall results based on all course objectives were 4.8/5.0. The course-end feedback results discussed above based on an experiential learning model showed significant improvements over the same course taught in previous quarters. However, because the professor varied, a direct comparison is not included.

Based on course end assessment by both the faculty member teaching the course and the students taking the course, the following items were identified as possible areas of improvement:

• Incorporate an operational internal combustion engine within the appropriate lesson block.

• Conduct a field trip to a vapor power plant to observe an actual plant in operation.

• Include an example of a refrigeration cycle

• Develop a web site with links to animation sites and other pertinent information

• Add even more hands on activities in the earlier portion of the course.

• Customize the college’s course end evaluation questions to relate more directly to the experiential learning model adopted within the course.

• Set up a secure location to store course learning aids in order to ensure future operation.

summary and conclusion

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) is committed to experiential learning within its undergraduate engineering programs through its cooperative education program and course design. This paper describes how an experiential learning model is incorporated within a Thermodynamics course in order to improve student learning. Traditionally, a course in thermodynamics is taught in a lecture style which addresses the conceptual phase of the experiential learning model. In this paper, discussions and specific details are presented on how an experiential learning model is used in order to transform an existing thermodynamics course. The experiential learning model is applied while designing and enhancing the course to ensure that course activities give full value to each stage of the process. The methodology is based on an existing educational model which includes four basic stages; active experiences, reflective observations, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Preliminary assessment results based on course-end student feedback are included which indicate a high level of perceived learning in the course.

Acknowledgment

The authors would like to thank the Gleason Foundation for their generous support which has made the efforts described within this paper possible. In addition, the technical support received during fabricating and assembling the various thermodynamic educational devices would not have been possible without the assistance of RIT’s Mechanical Engineering department and more specifically Mr. David Hathaway and staff.

References

1] ACCREDITATION BOARD FOR ENGINEERING AND TECHNOLOGY. CRITERIA FOR ACCREDITING ENGINEERING PROGRAMS. REVISED 18 MARCH 2000. . (27 JULY 2000).

2] Kolb, D, A, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

3] Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. Toward an applied theory of experiential learning, C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley, 1975.

4] Tennant, M. Psychology and Adult Learning. Second Edition. London: Routledge, 1997.

5] Moran M, Shapiro H. Fundamental of Thermodynamics. Fourth Edition. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2000.

6] Writing Book Reviews. (25 October 2001).

7] LEO: Literacy Education Online, Writing Book Reviews. (25 October 2001).

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[1] Margaret Bailey, Kate Gleason Endowed Chair, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering Department, Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York 14623-5604, mbbeme@rit.edu

[2] John Chambers, Mechanical Engineering BS/MS (3rd year) Student, Rochester Institute of Technology, jrc6353@osfmail.isc.rit.edu

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