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Designing and Building a Tiny House to Develop Connections across Disciplines and Concepts

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

CEED Technical Session II: Developing Research and Design Skills Through Experiential Learning

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education

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Paper Authors


Vicki V. May P.E. Dartmouth College

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Vicki V. May, Ph.D., P.E. is an Instructional Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth College. Her research focuses on engineering education and K-12 outreach. She teaches courses in solid mechanics, structural analysis, and integrated design at Dartmouth. Prior to relocating to the east coast, Professor May was an Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.

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Charles R. Sullivan Dartmouth College


Honor J. Passow P.E. Dartmouth College

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Honor Passow, Ph.D., P.E., is a Lecturer at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine where she teaches biostatistics and research methods and designs educational assessments, courses, and curricula. One of her research areas is what constitutes competence in engineering work. Based on her research, she designed a performance review system for Ph.D. level engineers regarding their technical and professional competencies. She has also taught statics and dynamics to engineering students.

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Benoit Cushman-Roisin Dartmouth College

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Benoit Cushman-Roisin is Professor of Engineering Sciences at the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, where he teaches a series of courses in environmental engineering, sustainable design, and green infrastrucure. In addition, he offers consulting services in the areas of energy efficiency and water in and around buildings.

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The ‘tiny house movement’ describes the trend away from large houses to smaller, minimalist houses; it is a social movement as well as an environmental movement. Tiny houses are typically less than 400 ft2 and are built for a range of reasons including: affordability, energy efficiency, minimalism, sustainability, portability, flexibility, and more.

Students, faculty, and researchers from xxx, as well as industry partners and community members are collaborating to design, analyze, and build a tiny house at the xxx Organic Farm. Tiny house design-build provides a context for the concepts learned in class and a tangible outcome but more importantly it engages students in authentic, interdisciplinary, experiential learning and will result in the formation of a community interested in tackling issues related to energy, housing, and the environment. Through the tiny house project, students will: • Apply principles of sustainability; • Increase their interest and self-efficacy in sustainable design; • Identify connections between concepts learned in class, concepts related to the tiny house, and concepts in the real world; • Compare and contrast interdisciplinary design options and decisions; • Increase their level of empathy and perspective-taking; • Reflect on their learning.

Students in six different courses on campus are collaborating to design the tiny house. This past summer, students in Architecture I investigated different sites at the Organic Farm and prepared site plans for 3 different sites. This winter, students in Architecture II and III will work on architectural designs and plans using one of the sites proposed by the Architecture I students. In addition, students in an Energy Utilization course will design energy and lighting systems for the tiny house during the winter term. In the spring, students in a Structural Design and Analysis course will design and analyze the structural systems for the tiny house and create plans for the Building Department. In addition, students in Sustainable Design will recommend materials and approach that are sustainable.

The project team is using the ‘Eight Principles of Good Practice for All Experiential Learning Activities’ established by the National Society for Experiential Learning Education [1] as a framework for the project. The eight principles are as follows: intention, preparedness and planning, authenticity, reflection, orientation and training, monitoring and continuous improvement, assessment and evaluation, and acknowledgement.

Building of the tiny house will be open to all interested students and community members and will take place in September and October of 2019. The overall budget for the tiny house project is $50,000, with funding provided by a campus-wide experiential learning grant. Once built, the tiny house will serve as a pilot for future projects, will be used by researchers for continued data collection, and will be open to the public.

[1] National Society for Experiential Education. ‘Standards of Practice: Eight Principles of Good Practice for All Experiential Learning Activities.’ Presented at the 1998 Annual Meeting, Norfolk, VA

May, V. V., & Sullivan, C. R., & Passow, H. J., & Cushman-Roisin, B. (2019, June), Designing and Building a Tiny House to Develop Connections across Disciplines and Concepts Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32616

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