We have obtained a teaching grant to build and test new teaching materials for a second year civil engineering physics class. In the class, students learn deterministic and well understood physics based laws that are fundamental to doing energy and thermal comfort analysis for buildings. The class is taught using traditional means such as lectures and assignments, with a three tests and a final project. Each lecture is dedicated to a single physical domain, while the assignments, tests and final project selectively bring together multiple principles into a single problem. Naturally, students find those problems in which they have to bring together multiple principles to be the most difficult.
New teaching materials aim to help students understand these problems better by synthesizing and consolidating all the course material taught during the course into a single application. The application will be powered by a peer-reviewed physics based building model. The application would consist of a dashboard with buttons, sliders and graphs. These graphs will provide thermal comfort and energy analysis metrics of a building that the students can play with. The students can also turn on and off certain physical principles in the model to see how each of these impact the performance. And lastly, they can explore in detail the impact of building design and location on building performance.
By designing various searching and selecting assignments and finally quizzing the students after they have completed these tasks. The idea is that the students can learn a different knowledge domain. The energy models powering the application tie in all the physics problems they have been learning about during class, however the emergent behavior of the building energy requirements is not easy to grasp. This is due to the time dependent behavior of some energy flows for example, solar gains might cause over heating in the summer, but are welcome in the winter. By playing with this tool they will improve there understanding of the various counter intuitive behaviors a building acts out even when fully driven by well understood physics based laws.
We have obtained $6000 CAD to build this application and accompanying searching and selecting assignments. The improved learning will be tested by a quiz before and after the assignment to see the improved learning. The quiz will consist of questions that can be answered based on the knowledge of the students obtained during the course. However, we suspect that questions based on these emergent time-variant behaviors will be better understood after playing with the dashboard application. The results from our work will be published to provide other educations with ideas on how to improve facilitation of active learning practices.
The tool may be integrated further with the course in the future. One might imagine giving the students access to the application during the course, and the lectures progress through the topics and the application starts including more of those physics based principles they have learned about. So, initially the students might only have access to model that includes conduction and solar gains. But when discussing more advanced topics such as natural ventilation and climate-zone impact, the model gradually becomes more developed. Because the application layers each of the different physics based principles, the students can learn with the application as an companion. When students encounter non-intuitive behaviors, these might spark interesting debates among the students furthering the active learning process.