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Project Based Curriculum For Thermal Science Courses

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Thermodynamics, Fluids, and Heat Transfer II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.993.1 - 15.993.13

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Paper Authors

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Brandon Field University of Southern Indiana

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David Ellert University of Southern Indiana

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Project-Based Curriculum for Thermal Science Courses


The incorporation of semester-long projects into two different courses are discussed in this paper, one project in a senior-level Fluid/Thermal Design course (F/TD) in the Engineering curriculum and two projects in a junior- or senior-level Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer course (T-HX) for the Industrial Supervision/Advanced Manufacturing curriculum. The content of both of these courses has been delivered as a project-based learning (PBL) experience. In each case, the project has involved HVAC system design and building energy analysis: a renovation analysis for a house in a low-income neighborhood, identifying upgrade and retrofit options for an architectural award-winning building, and an analysis of a new construction building on campus.

Around this building analysis project framework, the entire content of the course has been structured, and has included: HVAC system design and components including sustainability and efficiency concerns, building envelope U-values, load calculations, psychrometry, instrumentation, design considerations and strategies, alternative energy and geothermal system options, finite difference computational techniques, computational system modeling with Newton-Raphson solution methods, and use of a commercially available building software model to simulate possible retrofit modifications and match measured loads. The classes have participated in field trips to the respective buildings to make measurements of room dimensions, air flow rates, temperatures, and relative humidity throughout the building and to clarify points of uncertainty from reading the blueprints.

By providing the students with the theoretical material that was immediately relevant to the project at hand in the lecture lab sessions, the conceptual understanding was aided by direct application. In addition, the projects demonstrate the relevance of the material from their thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat transfer classes in a tangible way. The student interest in the material was observed to be increased as judged by the level of engagement during and after class time.

This paper describes the structure of the courses between the lecture material and the project and how the learning outcomes for the course are approached. In addition, the practical considerations that have arisen through the semesters with regard to real world engineering design issues are discussed. Finally, observations of student learning is presented and discussed to gage the advantages of using a project-based curriculum.


Project Based Learning

Engineering education traditionally consists of lecture-based instruction, which is indisputably the most efficient method for communicating large amounts of information quickly. However, as engineering faculty are looking for innovative ways to teach information, the standard lecture-


Field, B., & Ellert, D. (2010, June), Project Based Curriculum For Thermal Science Courses Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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