A Project-Based Learning

Table of contents

A project-based learning approach is extended in which knowledge acquired in water resources engineering lessons is utilized to devise a storm-water management scheme. The goal of the project is to accentuate the significance of assessing design skills attained in the coursework. The students are expected to apply an understanding of material they learned from their lessons in water resources engineering and environmental engineering; which led them to develop a solution for storm-water management scheme. Also, the project aims to introduce students to the power of internet resources and computer technology and quickly carry out the many iterative analyses often required at the detailed stages of design.

Considering the importance of project-based design work in enabling proficiency attainment and understanding fundamental natural resources along with engineering concepts are discussed with an approach proposed for facilitating the assimilation of design teaching within water resources engineering course. Approach presented seeks to exploit student enthusiasm for engineering project work in order to enhance an understanding for water resources engineering. The design project considers a “real” problem, i.e. storm-water management system. It is argued that reality plays an important role in maintaining student commitment, which is essential for effective learning.

This paper provides an overview of how design teaching can provide an integrating theme within a water resource-engineering course. The emphasis of the current approach on student-centered active learning rather than the traditional passive learning methods is also discussed. Finally an assessment is made of the project-based approach to design teaching and its ability to develop an understanding of engineering principles, to develop skills in various software packages, and to maintain student enthusiasm using active learning techniques. Design teaching is seen as important, both in itself and as an integrated theme running throughout environmental degree courses. One of the prime objectives is to demonstrate the requirement for integrating the material covered in traditional environmental engineering courses within a design context.

In this way, the importance relevance and application of water resources and environmental engineering courses can be emphasized. In addition to this, it is recognized that project-based work is important in developing student enthusiasm for engineering and can therefore provide a mechanism for maintaining the required levels of interest throughout the course. Design projects are very often carried out with the students working in groups, which can be applied to develop teamwork and effective communication. One of the major advantages of project-based design work over traditional, formal lectures is that it is student-centered, requiring active learning rather than the passive acquisition of information through lectures.

Although the amount of material that is possible to cover within a single design project is demanding in terms of both student and faculty time, it is argued that project-based work may be a more effective method for acquiring knowledge and developing understanding. The importance of reality in effective design teaching has been highlighted by other authors who argue that the production of the artifact or system designed is an essential part of the educational process. Project-based design teaching often provides the opportunity assessing an existing design through an audit or for producing a new prototype, which would not normally be possible within a conventional lecture coarse. Project-based teaching, therefore, offers the additional advantage to students of dealing with real problems and it is arguably more tangible than other teaching techniques.

Although formal lectures provide an important means for acquiring knowledge, it is suggested that students often have more difficulty in understanding the material and seeing the relevance in course material when it is delivered in this way alone. The educational objective of project-based design teaching within water resources and environmental engineering degree courses are not always fully appreciated. Therefore, it is the aim of this paper to discuss a range of objectives and show how they may be achieved within the context of a particular stormwater management design project. A shelter belt system along with a stormwater transfer management system was analyzed using EPANET2 and EPANET2 at SWMM5 design software packages.

The shelter belt technology is a proven technology being used in Germany and the Netherlands for controlling stormwater. It was combined with the most-advanced Japanese water transfer technology. A group of students worked on the software packages to simulate the experience while another group of students worked on stormwater management using rainwater gardens and calculated various parameters. Students were encouraged to search for the information on the internet and other sources. Required information and guidance were provided by the instructor. The projects aim to demonstrate the importance of integrating water resources and environmental engineering in the design process as well as to develop team work and communication skills. In addition, it is student-centered, requiring active learning.

The project-based development, which enables the advantages discussed above to be achieved, is recommended as one that could readily be adopted within environmental and water resources engineering courses. In the following sections, an outline of the project specifications is first given. The educational objectives are then presented in detail and the educational value of project based design teaching is discussed. However, before discussing the detailed aspects of the design projects, it is helpful to consider the present projects in the context of an overall design model (a range of design models is discussed). The design process may be considered to comprise the following well-established phases: project specifications, common conceptualization, manifestation, and detail.

This process pertains largely to original designs, but aspects of the overall process are also relevant to variant design into which category the current design projects in general fall. In variant design, an existing design solution is adopted and modified. Therefore, the present design projects identify a case study in variant design. The generation of design solutions requires some consideration of the original design process discussed above. But the majority of the project is concerned with the detailed design phase.

Specification of design projects: The following projects were conceived based on the interest of various groups of students:

  1. Using shelter by technology for effective stormwater management.
  2.  Use of rainwater garden for stormwater management.
  3. Designing stormwater management for rural areas.
  4. Applying SWMM5 for real life data from Toledo, New Orleans, and Flint.
  5. The students were required to choose their topic in the beginning of the semester and were expected to carry out a litereature review, which was part of their final report.

In addition, students were allowed to explore all the internet resources and EPA software, such as SWMM5.

Objectives: The ultimate aim for the students is to establish a strategy for dealing with stormwater due to hurricanes (e.g. Katrina, Harvey).

  • The aim is achieved by ensuring the following specific objectives are met:
  • To use rainfall data.
  • To estimate runoff based on the current features for a particular site.
  • To explore possible solution for the problem. To employ SWMM for modeling purposes.
  • To calculate various parameters manually.
  • To use EPMNET2 for finding the water transfer.

The design projects are structured in this way to ensure that particular educational objectives are achieved, and these are discussed for each of the above items in a later section.


The design project is carried out over a period of 12 weeks with a total of 10 hours allocated for the project. Students were encouraged to utilize Blackboard for communicating with the instructor and among themselves. During the first session, students came up with their interested project topic selection. If for any reason students were unable to come up with a topic, the instructor helped them by suggesting alternative topics. Students were given specifications and guidelines on a weekly basis depending on the progress they made on their projects. Students using the software were given a step-by-step procedure for utilizing the software package. Some exercises were also prepared for the students, which were directly related to the project.

The first session concludes with a discussion of the project specification between the project supervisor and the students enabling any initial problems to be overcome.At the beginning of the second session, it is expected that students will generate a conceptual diagram along with data and tables, which can be utilized towards laying out the flow of the project. Students utilizing the software were expected to learn the software. In the second session, students are expected to identify all the necessary specifications and to comment on their effect on the success of their projects. This is carried out by means of discussions during the second session with the project supervisor.

By the start of the third and final sessions, students are required to present their findings in the class and critique by other groups. In the fourth session, they were required to write the final report, whichreceived comments by the project supervisor. Assessment/feedback: The work of the students is assessed by a group project report that shows details of all the hand calculations and details of the proposed design. A project report rubric was provided by the project supervisor to the students in the beginning of the semester when students came up with the project topics.

Their final presentation was also assessed according to a presentation rubric, which was also posted in the same manner. Assessment is carried out in particular to identify the following:

  • The ability to generate a simple model for a complex stormwater problem to enable realistic operating conditions to be calculated.
  • The ability to employ environmental and water resources engineering concepts.
  • The ability to interpret the results obtained.
  • The ability to produce a well-structured technical report in which arguments are put forward cogently and design decisions are justified.

Feedback to the students takes place throughout the course of the project through discussions with the project supervisors and detailed comments relating directly to the students’ reports.

Educational objectives:

  • Use of design, knowledge, and making simplified assumptions.
  • Manual calculations.


The design projects discussed in this paper had been run for six months, with some modifications as feedback became available. It is argued that the projects are successful in demonstrating the importance of environmental and water resources engineering within a design context. Furthermore, it provides an integrated approach combining computer software, environmental and water engineering, and design for the consideration of a real design problem. In this way, it is suggested that it is possible to maintain the students’ interest and enthusiasm for environmental and water resource engineering through the use of project work.

At the same time, this develops students’ understanding of the required engineering and design principle. In addition, it develops students’ skills in the use of computer software. Environmental and water resources engineering degree courses have been discussed in terms of the need for knowledge acquisition, the acquisition of skills, and the development of understanding. The projects described in this paper requiresknowledge acquisition, the accumulation of actual information, and the developing understanding of computer skills. The approach presented is effective for the development of understanding because it is student-centered, requiring active learning.

It requires the students to express their understanding of concepts and discuss them, and to get rapid feedback during the discussion. The process of carrying out design projects in this way is closer. Therefore, to a tutorial approach to teaching and learning than to a lecturing approach and therefore has many advantages. The disadvantage of the project-based approach largely relates to instructor and student time requirements. In addition, it is argued that within given design projects, only a limited domain of environmental and water resources engineering can be considered. The project based approach to student learning, therefore, needs to be run in parallel with more traditional methods but cannot replace them.

The projects discussed in this paper are highly suitable. It is argued for inclusion within conventional, environmental, and water resources engineering courses. This would then fulfill the purposes of both reinforcing the understanding of environmental and water resources engineering principles in a way that maintains the students’ interest and enables the environment and water resources engineering courses to be run in an integrated way with the design teaching. The importance of design as an integrating theme running throughout environmental and water resources degree courses has not been established. There is growing concern among industrialists and employers of graduate environmental and water resources engineers of the way in which computer software packages and applying knowledge to real world problems are used.

These design projects discussed in this paper address this issue directly and it is suggested that a more questioning attitude among students in the use of software packages achieved with a more integrated approach to engineering and design teaching. The importance of reality in teaching engineering design has been discussed by several authors since it is found that much greater impact and lasting effect on memory may be achieved if these students can see the necessity for what they are doing for the real world. The present design projects considered a stormwater management problem and the students applied their knowledge obtained through several sources.

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