Approximating professional practice in a first-year engineering curriculum: The Wind Turbine Maker Project

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Leahy, Paul G.
McGookin, Connor
Daly, Hannah E.
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University College Cork
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In 2020, the Energy Engineering programme team at University College Cork undertook a redesign of the introductory first-year module in Energy Engineering. The aim was to introduce a more experientially-based learning experience and to allow first-year students greater opportunity to develop and demonstrate performance-based understanding. The key material change to the module was to incorporate design and group work in the first year of the programme. In the Wind Turbine Maker Challenge, groups of 4-5 students were tasked with designing and building a working wind turbine. Students were provided with kits comprising some basic elements of turbines including small generators and gearboxes and simple, flat blades. However, the focus of the exercise was on original design, particularly of the aerodynamic rotor components of the turbines. The participants had to source their own materials for the wind turbine rotors, and were encouraged to use recovered or recycled materials. Students were also asked to consider ethical aspects of wind energy generation. In developing this approach, the conceptualisation of teaching as setting up and facilitating students' performance was to the forefront. The formal classroom instruction was limited to only the core knowledge required to enable students to begin to consider suitable materials, geometries for their turbine designs through hands-on experimentation. Survey feedback from students showed that they had strongly focussed on the environmental and sustainability aspects of the exercise. Students were asked what they thought the goal of the exercise was. Students’ reported understandings of the main goal varied widely, for example “Learning how wind turbines work” and “Working as a team towards a common goal”. However, all of the students’ reported goals were compatible with the module’s learning outcomes.
Engineering education , Sustainability , Experiential learning , Course design
Leahy, P. G., McGookin, C. and Daly, H. E. (2021) ‘Approximating Professional practice in a first-year engineering curriculum: The Wind Turbine Maker Project’, EESD2021: Proceedings of the 10th Engineering Education for Sustainable Development Conference, 'Building Flourishing Communities', University College Cork, Ireland, 14-16 June.