Full Abstract Details

Building Sustainability into Control Systems Courses

(Back to Search)
Project TypePhase 1/Type 1 - Exploratory
Target DisciplineEngineering
Project FocusCreating Learning Materials and Teaching Strategies
NameBaglione, Melody
InstitutionCooper Union
DepartmentMechanical Engineering
Phone Number212-353-4295
E-mail Addressmelody@cooper.edu
Goals & Intended Outcome

The project aims to improve student learning of control systems by (1) creating new learning experiences that leverage a new energy efficient, LEED-certified academic building and (2) developing hands-on process control laboratory scenarios and assignments that connect traditional classroom theory to a building control systems theme.

Methods & Strategies

We plan to expose students to real-world applications of control systems theory by creating system descriptions and an interactive website with diagrams and photos of actual building systems (e.g., chillers, boilers, heat exchangers, air-handling units). We plan to develop new experimental scenarios using bench top process control rigs and a configurable software interface from Feedback, Inc.

Evaluation Methods & Results

Our assessment plan consists of both direct and indirect measures. Students take building tours and are asked to describe the systems in a short writing assignment. The assignment is evaluated using a cognitive skills rubric based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. We are also using customized pre- and post-SALG (Student Assessment of Learning Gains) surveys. The preliminary results reveal the teaching strategies are beneficial yet supplemental background material would likely further improve student learning. We are also considering using focus groups or interviews, observations of student behavior, and/or concept inventories to assess learning gains and affective outcomes.


We are working on two technical papers (with accepted conference abstracts) describing preliminary and advanced building simulation and control work. I am in contact with other colleges with sustainable building design programs and have shared draft teaching materials and given building tours to other internal and external faculty. We also plan to launch a website and host a symposium.


The project impacts student learning by providing opportunities to apply control systems concepts and acquire valuable professional skills. Preliminary survey results generally reveal students view building systems tours as an opportunity to appreciate the real-world applicability of classroom theory. However, student surveys echo the PI’s observations and assessment results and indicate a need for more background information and relevant assignments, which is within the scope of planned future work. As a result of this work, other faculty in the department have participated in building system tours and become motivated to also start integrating aspects of our building into their undergraduate courses (e.g. fluids, thermo, heat transfer).


The proposed work includes developing new experimental scenarios based on bench top process control rigs from Feedback, Inc. The project award was delayed from the proposed start date and during the delay the process controller for the configurable software became obsolete. The PI decided to wait for the release of a new controller to ensure the possibility of future software upgrades. The release of the software interface for the new controller has been delayed until Fall 2012. This delay (along with the PI expecting a new baby this May) will result in a request for an extension of this project.

Expected Outcomes

The expected student learning outcomes include: (1) describe the basic operational principles of central HVAC systems, including centrifugal chillers, heat exchangers, and air handling units; (2) when given a system (e.g., heat exchanger), identify the control goals, process variables, controller inputs/outputs, and sensors and actuators; and (3) consider the energy consumption and environmental impact during system, component, or process design.

Data Impact

Our quantitative techniques include scoring rubrics whereby the PI will assess and quantify student learning outcomes and behavior. Our qualitative techniques include the use of interviews or focus groups to probe results from student surveys and will help us clarify the nature and extent of student learning gains as well as the characteristics of student behavior during the project.

Collection Methods

The PI is collaborating with a qualified,external assessment coordinator. We are evaluating the project using pre- and post-SALG surveys. We are assessing student learning gains by evaluating student work using scoring rubrics. We also plan to use further qualitative evaluation techniques (e.g. teacher/assessor observations of student behavior, focus groups and/or interviews).

Key Findings

Preliminary faculty observations and student survey results suggest exposing students to real-world applications of the classroom theory they learn has the potential to engage students in the learning process. Furthermore, hands-on experimentation can help to improve self-confidence. However, the design of such inductive and hands-on learning strategies must be well organized, deliberate and accurately reflect real-world design and problem solving.

PosterView Poster