The rapid growth of nanomaterials within consumer products, construction materials, and other medical or electronic devices necessitates the education of engineering students on the impacts and implications of nanotechnology. For civil and environmental engineering students, in particular, it is important to understand the complex roles of nanomaterials in waste management. Nanomaterials can be incorporated to enhance concrete properties for spent nuclear waste containment, for example. At the same time, it is critical that we develop environmentally sound end-of-life management strategies for nanomaterial-laden items. To that end, students must learn about the unique aspects of fundamental nanomaterial properties, as well as potential issues associated with nanomaterial disposal.
Rather than teach a singular elective course on nanotechnology, it was decided to distribute and integrate the content across multiple courses. Problem-based learning (PBL) was selected as the pedagogical method for introducing nanotechnology concepts. The premise with this approach is that each PBL module is a signature learning experience for students in each course, where PBL was not otherwise used.
This paper describes the implementation of the integrated theme within a civil and environmental engineering curriculum. Implementation of these modules occurred over a three-year period. This paper identifies the problem, context, and active learning exercises for acquiring knowledge about nanotechnology in each module, as well as the core technical concepts that each was associated with for the given course. More than 150 individual students were impacted in at least one course, which represents about half of our undergraduate student population in a given year. A significant fraction of those students were exposed to at least two PBL modules. However, the number of students that were exposed to four or more PBL modules was much less than anticipated, as described in the paper. To that end, this paper also describes the implementation challenges and lessons learned from thematic integration, based on individual interviews conducted with six course instructors.
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