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Desktop Learning Modules


Affordable Desktop Learning Modules (DLMs) to Facilitate Transformation of Undergraduate Engineering Classes
NSF award #1432674


PI Bernie Van Wie, Chemical Engineering
Robert Richards and Prashanta Dutta, Mechanical Engineering
Olusola Adesope, Educational Psychology
David Thiessen, Chemical Engineering


The goal of this project is to improve learning in undergraduate engineering education thus helping to graduate engineers that are capable of applying their knowledge in synthesis of new designs, evaluating design alternatives, and integrating information. The project has created ultra-low-cost desktop experiments with which engineering students can conduct investigations to learn fundamental principles of fluid mechanics and heat transfer. Fluid mechanics and heat transfer are areas of engineering science that are studied in many engineering disciplines including aerospace, biomedical, chemical, civil, environmental, and mechanical engineering. The ultra-low-cost of the experiments make it possible for engaging investigations to be integrated widely throughout fluid mechanics and heat transfer courses. With a target cost comparable to a textbook, these experiments make it possible for teams of students to pursue their own investigations of fluids and heat transfer phenomena. This Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) project has resulted in an array of simple, inexpensive, easy to use experiments and companion materials that cover fundamental aspects of fluid flow and heat transfer.

This project builds on earlier NSF-supported work at Washington State University which established the effectiveness of the use of desktop experiments compared to traditional lectures and laboratories. Four experiments have been manufactured: a venturi meter, a pipe flow experiment, a concentric tube heat exchanger, and a shell and tube heat exchanger. The experiments chosen model actual industrial equipment that students can analyze at multiple levels from simple correlations accessible to first year students, to the use of sophisticated engineering principles and tools in advanced course work. The small desk-top experiments can be used in standard classrooms or comparable work areas. To achieve cost and portability targets, the project utilizes design for manufacture techniques and takes advantage of new manufacturing modalities such as rapid prototyping through 3-D printing and vacuum forming. Evaluations have assessed the direct benefits of the research on student learning outcomes, integrating both qualitative and quantitative data. Data concerning the efficacy of the ultra-low-cost fluid mechanics and heat transfer experiments have been collected and analyzed as part of the project. Conceptual understanding has been measured at several levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. These ultra-low-cost experiments will create opportunities to measure gaps in understanding and student misconceptions.

Ultra Low-Cost Vacuum Formed Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger Learning Module (Pump Version)

Heat exchanger setup with pumps, reservoirs and collection beakers, hand-held thermometer, markers and a stopwatch.
Students working with heat exchanger units set up in a studio-learning environment.

Ultra Low-Cost Vacuum Formed Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger Learning Module (Gravity Flow Version)

heat exchanger setup with reservoirs, collection and waste beakers, hand-held thermometer and a stop watch.

Ultra Low-Cost Vacuum Formed Water Venturi Meter (3-Standpipe Version)

3-standpipe venturi system with tubing, valve, pump and batteries.

Ultra Low-Cost Vacuum Formed Venturi Meter (5-Standpipe Version)

Students working with venturi units in a classroom.

Ultra Low-Cost Vacuum Formed Hydraulic Loss System

Hydraulic loss system with tubing, valve, pump and batteries.

Ultra Low-Cost Thermal Boundary Layer Desktop Learning Module

The ultra low-cost TBL desktop learning module, including a flashlight, piece of paper, Plexiglas tank, aluminum tube, syringe, and the collection beaker.