This evidence-based practice paper discusses the development and refinement of a first-year engineering design project related to electrical power generation, including the use of renewable energy resources. An important aspect of any Introduction to Engineering course is the project or projects which are chosen for the students to work on. A wide range of projects have been developed and presented in literature and range in scope from simple in-class design projects to semester-long projects [1-5]. A good project is one that offers students a chance to build upon their engineering skills while engaging them in a problem that is of interest to them. It has been considered a best practice among introductory engineering design course developers to choose projects which highlight the engineering design process (build-test-refine cycle), are “hands-on”, and team based. [1-3]
For the past seven years, a renewable energy project (later expanded to include non-renewable energy options) has been used at a large, southwest research institution as a part of the Introduction to Engineering class. The basic idea of the project is that multidisciplinary teams would work together to create a prototype power plant for a fictional town. The goal was to produce electrical power by harnessing resources such as falling water, wind, and light (a platform was built to provide these sources via a pump, fan, and light bulbs), or any other sources of energy that they could harness safely and for the prescribed budget. The teams of students build fully functional prototypes (producing on the order of 1-100 mW of electrical power) while meeting the needs of their stakeholders (fictional). The stakeholders provided constraints as well as opened up opportunities to create value in creative ways. While the focus of the class is dedicated to the engineering design process, other skills such as experimental design, modelling, technical drawing, Matlab programming, basic circuits, technical communication, and basic prototyping skills were also taught in the context of this project.
This paper will discuss the details of this project and its evolution to include predictive modelling, entrepreneurial mindset, non-renewable energy sources, and just-in-time learning. The rationale behind how this project was designed and modified will be discussed in relation to the course goals and course format and some successes will be highlighted. Finally, recommendations will be given for how this project could be implemented in different contexts.
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