DeCaluwe Teaching Profile

Mechanical Engineering Education
Active Learning · Holistic Education · Multi-modal Approaches

Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is heavily influenced by three key concepts:

  1. Constructivist Learning Theory: New learning is constructed by the interaction between previous and new experiences, information, etc. To build truly lasting and meaningful learning in students, then, it is incumbent on the instructor to understand, as much as possible, the pre-existing concepts, experiences, and perspectives that students bring with them to class. Teachers should then use this information to design learning experiences that are engaging, challenging, and at the appropriate level of difficulty (i.e. in a student's "Zone of Proximal Development"). My thinking here is heavily ihfluenced by the educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky's work on cognitive development.

  2. Active Learning: Recent education research makes it abundantly clear that meaningful, permanent learning is made significantly more likely when students are engaged in active learning stategies. Rather than passive receivers of information distributed by the professor (the "sage on the stage" model), our classroom time together, in general, is put to much better use solving open-ended problems where students must think critically, apply new and previous concepts from the class, and work collaboratively.

  3. Growth Mindset: In contrast to a "fixed" mindset, I believe that all students are capable of achieving academic success. Literally no concepts are out of reach for a student; rather, combining constructivist theory and active learning techniques, the challenge is to understand current student thinking and previous experiences and to connect these to new concepts via engaging, relevant, tailored learning experiences.

Therefore, in my classrooms you will see a mixture of different activities, including not just lecture, but also small group work, individual problem solving, and open-ended conversations. These are designed to foster greater student engagement in the learning process, but also to promote interaction and provide critical, real-time feedback and insight into student understanding of course concepts and mastery of skills.

The in-class experience is complemented by out-of-class assignments that challenge students to approach problems from multiple perspectives and learn how to effectively communicate technical ideas. Students learn not just engineering skills and concepts, but also about communication, teamwork, and empathy, which are critical skills for engineers and citizens alike.

Finally, I do my best to be as accessible as possible to students. This includes a non-threatening classroom environment where students are encouraged to share ideas, ask questions, and take intellectual risks, but also accessibility outside of class via office hours and over various electronic channels (email, Canvas, Twitter, etc.).

Courses Taught

MEGN 361: Thermodynamics

A comprehensive and rigorous treatment of Thermodynamics from an engineering point of view. The foundation for the use of conservation equations is developed by taking a general approach to the solution of a number of interdisciplinary engineering problems. This also helps gain a better understanding of other fields such as fluid mechanics and heat transfer.

Specific Learning Outcomes: By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify the boundary of a system by drawing a control surface and label the transfer of mass and energy across the control surface for a given process.
  • Apply balance equations (mass, energy, and entropy) to analyze steady and unsteady processes, relating a system’s inputs and outputs (heat, work, and mass transfer) and material properties (temperature, pressure, etc.) with one another.
  • Determine the properties of a pure substance using equations of state, property tables, software tools, or thermodynamic surfaces, choosing an appropriate method.
  • Use the 1st and 2nd law of thermodynamics to identify possible and impossible processes.
  • Apply the concept of isentropic efficiency to compare actual and ideal devices.
  • Use the concepts of thermal efficiency and coefficient of performance to analyze the performance of power and refrigeration cycles (power plants, vapor compression systems, internal combustion engines), and assess the performance by comparing to other cycles, to theoretical limits, and to practical material and economic limitations.
  • Represent thermodynamic processes in multiple formats, by drawing process schematics, drawing thermodynamic property (P-v and T-s) diagrams, applying balance equations, and writing for diverse audiences (science and non-science).
  • Use software tools to analyze and carry out parametric analysis of thermodynamic processes.
  • Design and analyze thermodynamic systems (cycles and other devices) to meet heating, cooling, and/or power needs for a specified application.

MEGN/MTGN/EBGN/MLGN 469/569: Fuel Cell Science and Technology
(undergraduate + graduate; co-taught with Prof. Ryan O'Hayre)

Fuel cells provide one of the most efficient means for converting the chemical energy stored in a fuel to electrical energy. This course introduces students to the fundamental aspects of fuel cell systems, with emphasis placed on proton exchange membrane (PEM) and solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC). Students will learn the basic principles of electrochemical energy conversion while being exposed to relevant topics in materials science, thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics.

Specific Learning Outcomes: By the end of the course, students will have gained the skills and knowledge to demonstrate the following objectives:

  • Fuel Cell Characteristics. Contrast the advantages and disadvantages of fuel cells to other energy conversion technologies (e.g. heat engines). Discuss the advantages and disadvantages between the various fuel cell types (SOFC, MCFC, PAFC, AFC, PEMFC).
  • Fuel Cell Thermodynamics. Calculate quantitatively ideal fuel cell voltage as a function of gas concentrations, pressure, and temperature. Calculate thermodynamic efficiencies. Perform heat and mass balances on fuel cell systems. Describe the basic mechanisms of fuel cell reactions, electron transfer, and ionic transport at the molecular scale.
  • Fuel Cell Kinetics. Derive equations for activation, IR, and concentration losses in fuel cell systems. Assemble a complete (simple) analytical model for a fuel cell system and use it to predict fuel cell performance over a range of operating conditions (e.g. at various temperature, pressures, feed rates, etc.) Identify the most significant kinetic constraints that limit current fuel cell performance and suggest research directions to improve performance.
  • Fuel Cell Research. Identify major materials issues remaining in fuel cell design. Describe the most important characterization techniques used to test fuel cell performance and identify bottlenecks.
  • Fuel Cell Systems. Describe and compare the major strategies for fuel cell stacking. Discuss the major fuel-cell system applications (portable, transportation, stationary power) and be able to argue which types are most suited for each application.
  • Fuel Cell System Integration. Describe and discuss the ancillary equipment necessary for a complete fuel-cell system, including fuel reforming and thermal management.
  • Fuel Cell Modeling. Examine approaches to system modeling to identify system limitations and integration needs. Use numerical simulations to explore the inter-relation between fuel cell system design, operating conditions, and performance/efficiency.
MEGN 570: Electrochemical Systems Engineering

A comprehensive and rigorous treatment of electrochemistry and electrochemical systems. The overall objective of this course is for students to gain fundamental, quantitative insight into the operation of electrochemical devices for engineering analysis across a range of length scales and applications. As a means to such insight, we develop the tools and skills necessary to build numerical models of electrochemical devices. After a brief review of electrochemical devices, the course establishes the equations that govern device performance at the most fundamental level, before evaluating when simpler models may be more suitable. These equations will be used to describe four basic phenomena: (i) chemical and electrochemical reactions, (ii) transport of charged and neutral species, (iii) heat transfer, and (iv) changes in material properties.

Specific Learning Outcomes: By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Formulate numerical models for the quantitative description of operating electrochemical devices, modeling four basic phenomena in these devices:
    • Chemical and electrochemical reactions
    • Heat transfer
    • Transport of charged and neutral species
    • Changes in material properties
  • Model charge-transfer reactions using various approaches (Butler-volmer, Tafel equation, Markus theory), and identify when each approach is appropriate.
  • Identify and describe experimental methods to characterize electrochemical devices and validate simulations.
  • Choose an appropriate level of model fidelity for simulations across a range of length scales.