Introducing New Engineering Students to Mechanical Concepts through an “Energy Cube” Project

Micheal P. O'Flaherty, Dublin Institute of Technology
Shannon Chance, Dublin Institute of Technology
Fionnuala Farrell, Dublin Institute of Technology
Chris Montague, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Conference Paper

International Joint Conference on the Learner in Engineering Education (IJCLEE 2015), San Sebastian, Spain, July 6-9, 2015.


The objective of this paper is to describe a problem based learning module, called the “Energy Cube”, offered by Dublin Institute of Technology that is designed to teach mechanical, building services and manufacturing engineering concepts to first year engineering students.

The Energy Cube project gives students hands-on experience in areas ranging from heat transfer, lighting and energy efficiency to industrial and product design. In the Energy Cube, students design and construct (using cardboard, clear plastic, and glue) a model of a building that admits as much daylight as possible while being energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing.

The students, working in teams of four, complete most of the work within six four-hour blocks allotted for the project. Each week, students are given specific goals: (1) generate design specifications, (2) create an evaluation matrix and use it to select two preliminary designs, (3) choose one final design and make detailed construction drawings, (4) construct the final model, (5) test performance of models and record results, (6) submit and present a final report that includes recommendations for improvement.

Performance tests determine what percentage of available ambient light reaches the interior and how much heat (generated by an incandescent light bulb) is retained over a 30-minute period. Quality of construction is measured using an air tightness test. The teaching team, comprised of engineering and design educators, assesses aesthetics subjectively. Individual contributions are evaluated using attendance records and peer assessments.

Student feedback, via a survey, was positive regarding teamwork and team-building. It also showed a good balance among the diverse learning outcomes.