June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
For two consecutive years (fall 2014 and 2015), two weeks of the civil engineering materials laboratory course at the University of South Carolina were dedicated for a student-centered, problem-based learning (PBL) module about nanomaterials in cement composites. Implementation of this module was part of a larger curriculum enhancement and faculty development project to integrate student learning of nanotechnology using a PBL network of courses. The project goal was to elevate knowledge of and elicit critical thinking in the complex and increasingly important area of nanomaterial applications in civil and environmental engineering.
Specifically, this module was designed to address the challenge with student understanding of the nanoscale. Students were presented with a current problem set in the context of nano-amended cement composites for below-ground nuclear waste storage at a local site, where leaching is of concern. The driving question, for which students were asked to estimate a solution, was “What is the amount, using wt% as units, of multiwalled carbon nanotubes needed to attain at least a 20% increase in compressive strength in Type I ordinary Portland cement mortar?” This question was presented in a decision worksheet that was completed as individuals and in teams before and after strengthening their understanding of fundamental concepts through active learning exercises.
This paper reports on the salient results of this two-year experience. It discusses and demonstrates how student illustrations and written evidence from decision worksheets and active learning exercises were used for a qualitative assessment of: (a) recognition of relevant concrete properties (prior knowledge); (b) student learning of fundamental nanomaterial properties (new knowledge); (c) an understanding of the nanoscale in the given problem context; and (d) how students in teams influence each other’s learning processes in a collaborative PBL environment.
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