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Abuzz on Bolton Street

These are busy days here at Dublin Institute of Technology, full of new experiences. It’s been a long while since I posted a blog, but I’m happy to report that — coming off a two-year stint as a visiting researcher — I’ve settled into my new permanent job as:

(Yes, the Europeans do like to list all theie credentials after their names… a bit cluttered… but, ah, as my colleague Una says, all those annual dues paid to licensing organizations might as well get you a spiffy signature….)
I’m actually teaching first year engineering classes now. I’ve attached photos from this afternoon in the engineering classes at Bolton Street DIT. This particular afternoon, I was officially teaching the bridge design/build class for Level 8 engineering students, but I also popped in to see how things were going in several other labs (Level 7 Energy Cube who also had built bridges today, and Level 8 Energy Cube).
I’d spent the morning in the architecture studio, as a guest reviewer for a third-year design “crit” where the students were presenting their designs for primary schools on sites in Kilkenny – one of my favorite Irish cities. Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos… though I did see some very nice designs. Several international students (from Switzerland and Russia) presented their work alongside Irish students.
I’m loving the challenges that come with teaching new subjects, and also the chance to be a regular visitor to the architecture studios once again.

This past Saturday, the RoboSlam founders — Damon, Ted, Frank, and Shannon — travelled to “sunny southeast Ireland” to deliver a RoboSlam for 18 students (ages 7-14) in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Many thanks to the local sponsor Taoglas and to the parents who stuck around to help. Extra special thanks for helping organize and host the event go out to John O’Connor at the Enniscorthy Enterprise & Technology Centre, the CoderDojo mentor Sam, and Charlie Pritchard. Thanks to Edith Pritchard for a delicious follow-up dinner.

We’re pleased to report that 18 functioning robots left for happy new homes at the end of the day. The new robot design uses an Arduino Nano, which is very easy for people to continue coding and re-coding at home, after the formal workshop concludes. Frank Duignan came up with dual sensor design he calls “Two Eyes” and uploaded the newest code to out RoboSlam blog.

I’ve posted a couple photos silly selfies below. More photos are available on the RoboSlam blog. I worked up such an appetite that the hotel brought me two full breakfasts the next morning, as captured by Frank’s stealthy camera phone.

Thanks to everyone there for a fun and successful event!

Our students did an amazing job leading this robotics workshop for teens!


For this month’s big RoboSlam event–provided to students from more than three Dublin schools as part of Engineer’s Week–our volunteer staff team did something a little different. We recruited some of the most energetic electrical and electronics engineering students form DIT and then, on Friday and Monday, we gave them training on how to lead a RoboSlam workshop.

When Tuesday morning came along, our engineering students were in top form. They led the robot-building and coding workshop for 37 secondary school students, and they did it with amazingly little help from their engineering teachers.

DIT student facilitators The heroes of the day: DIT’s RoboSlam student facilitators with robotics gurus Ted Burke and Damon Berry (the two in the RoboSlam t-shirts)

Things went so well, in fact, that the secondary school students were far ahead of schedule when they broke for lunch. So the student facilitators stayed behind and worked with Ted to hatch a plan for new coding challenges that…

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 Catherine Simpson is here at DIT tonight describing the research she does as a Forensic Engineer. You can also call her an expert in thermal modeling and a Building Services Engineer.

She can make digital models of buildings and predict their future energy performance. She can also go into a functioning building to identify, analyze, and rectify errors in thermal performance. She says that very often, buildings do not end up performing the way experts predicted. These are skills she uses:




Catherine says Forensic Engineers must avoid using clues as if they were actual evidence (of the problem and its causes). These are clues: complaints, anecdotes, consultant reports, BMS data, ad hoc solutions, staff theories, and staff observations. On the other hand, these are useful forms of evidence:


Catherine models problems digitally and physically. She also develops theories that she can combine to test her theories:


Catherine gave an example of a shopping mall that had a very windy atrium and a very steep heating bill. No one could identify the causes of these problems. But after six years experiencing these problems, the owners called her in.

With careful analysis of data she collected (using dozens of different routes, including studying air flow by blowing bubbles in crowded spaces where smoke tests couldn’t be used) she identified a number of problems. One was a poorly placed rotisserie oven that was triggering vents to open. Another problem was that the building controls “thought” the building’s vents were completely closed when many were only partially closed.

Catherine devised a £50k solution to closing the vents in winter that is saving the owner £60k every month, in heat alone. There were reduced wind drafts and reduced tenant complaints. She says it saved about £500k in capital and restored people’s confidence in the facility.

Here’s one tool she uses to measure air speed:

She also uses thermal imaging to study air infiltration, like so:



We use this kind of technology in our Energy Cube project. This is a picture from that class last week:

Catherine’s work involves fixing problems and also providing expert witness testimony. Forensic engineering seems fascinating! Catherine is a veritable Nancy Drew.

Forensic engineering, she says, is like a jigsaw. You’re given clues, you find evidence, simulation gives context, you test theories, and ultimately prove a solution. She obviously loves her job!

Philosophy symposium 1

Philosophers sometimes use primary documents in ways not much different from the historians I mentioned in my previous blog. According to Yale:

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.

For historians, primary documents include photographs, letters, news clippings and the like. For philosophers, I’d say they could include original texts where an idea first appeared in written form. As a social science researcher, I myself am collecting audio-taped testimonies of female students who have first-hand experience of first-year engineering education. All three of these examples–philosophy, history, and social science research–involve high levels of interpretation of documents, ideas, and stories contributed by others.

Whereas my historian friend, Cecilia Hartsell, is investigating phenomena that include both the 1916 Uprising as well as the return of soldiers from WWI, my colleagues in philosophy spent a recent weekend discussing the phenomena of intentionality and normativity. These historians and philosophers seek to understand the context of events and ideas arising in the past, and what the authors of various documents meant at the time they spoke, or wrote.


february-workshopI joined a group of philosophers for a February 19-20, 2016 seminar that explored various aspects of phenomenology. The event was hosted by the School of Philosophy at the University College of Dublin but held at Newman House, on Saint Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Attending the seminar, I learned much more about phenomenology. I also learned more about the way philosophers think, study, generate new knowledge and new understandings, communicate with each other, test ideas, and seek to uncover the complex meanings embedded in writings by philosophers throughout the ages.

I am indebted to Prof. Dermot Moran and Dr. Elisa Magrì for inviting the public to their event so that I could attend, and to DIT’s new PhD student, Diana Adela Martin, for notifying me about the event.

Much of the discussion focused on phenomenology, which is both a philosophy and a social science research methodology. I’m currently using the methodology to study women’s experiences of STEM education, and will submit later this week a manuscript on another phenomenological research study of teachers’ experiences working together to implement Problem-Based Learning at Dublin Institute of Technology.

Related to experience, I must admit that visiting Newman House was an exquisite one. In this house, John Henry Newman founded University College Dublin (originally called the Catholic University of Ireland). I believe that he later became a cardinal and was beatified by the Catholic Church, despite the fact that his views did not always match the official sanctioned interpretations of the Church. Today, one can visit Newman Houses on campuses world wide, like the one I attended while a student at Virginia Tech. I’ve attached photos of the formal entry hall at UCD’s Newman House, for your enjoyment. I got so caught up in discussions at each coffee break that I never made it all the way to the lovely formal garden behind the house. Maybe next time!

Cecilia Hartsell, an inspiring historian and PhD candidate conducting research here in Dublin, chaired a workshop on Saturday (February 27, 2016) to help people learn about the use of primary documents in research conducted by historians. This was one of six separate events Cecilia is organizing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Uprising that eventually garnered Ireland’s independence from British rule.

The event was held at the Pearce Street Library (a street named for one a hero of the 1916 Uprising) included a keynote lecture by a historian from Trinity College Dublin named Brian Hanley, tea and coffee, a short talk on the evaluation and usefulness of primary documents by Cecilia Hartsell, and time for participants to work in small groups to study primary documents related to the uprising. In the end, each group presented its findings and we discussed what we’d learned.

I’m looking forward to Cecilia’s upcoming events!

Shannon Chance IJEEI’m celebrating the publication of a new journal article today, with the help of Sally O’Neill. She’s one of the librarians here at DIT, and she secured permission and posted the article on DIT’s website, making it free for you and anyone else to download.

The publishing process is glacially slow. I submitted the paper in March 2014, based on a conference paper delivered in 2013. And here I am, in February 2016, with the final publication finally in hand.

Many time, in research, it takes time to see the results of your work. Seeing this in print helps make all these days, sitting at a computer analyzing text, feel more worthwhile. Once I can see that people are downloading it, and once I start getting feedback and citations in other people’s research papers, I’ll celebrate some more.

I know what I’ve learned through this research is useful, because I get to apply it in the classroom and in the design studio. The rewards of printed research are more slow to crystallize but also extremely important, especially for people who want to gain credibility in research and build a career around research.

This new article, written with the help of John Marshall in Michigan and Gavin Duffy here in Dublin, is about Using Architecture Design Studio Pedagogies to Enhance Engineering Education. Simply put, we believe that design education and hands-on forms of learning can help improve the quality and experience of learning in engineering and other STEM disciplines. The results reported in this paper provide support for that claim.

To give you a feel for what I’m describing, this is how we learn in architecture:

Above are pictures from design studios in Lisbon at IST and one for a study abroad program  offered by Hampton University. Very, very hands-on!

These days I’m helping promote similar ways of teaching engineering, which looks similar in many respects:

These are photos from electrical and mechanical engineering projects I’ve helped conduct at Dublin Institute of Technology.

This brand new article is about a specific design studio, conducted at the University of Michigan, that blurred the boundaries distinguishing art and science. It involved students and teachers from architecture, materials science engineering, and art+design working together to design and build “SmartSurfaces.” The paper reports learning outcomes — things the students learned in the  class — as illustrated by the blogs they posted during the semester. Here’s a glimpse of what that experience was like for those students:

For this new paper, I created a matrix to describe design behaviors in relationship to epistemological development (which has to do with how we view knowledge). I compared what the students wrote in their blogs to the definitions in my chart. Doing this, I was able to identify development of design skills as a result of students working in groups, and I even pinpointed some instances of epistemological development. John and Gavin helped check the work so that it would be more credible and reliable. They offered perspectives of insiders in the studio (John) and outsiders interested in group-based learning, Problem Based Leaning (PBL), engineering education, and epistemological development (Gavin).

This article should be of interest to any teacher who wants to help students develop new design, design thinking, or epistemological skills. Please feel free to read it and email me any questions you have, at irelandbychance [at] gmail [dot] com.

Chance, S., Marshall, J. and Duffy, G. (2016) Using Architecture Design Studio Pedagogies to Enhance Engineering EducationInternational Journal of Engineering Education Vol. 32, No. 1(B), pp. 364–383, 2016.

Maria's viva 5What an honor to be part of the day a young scholar gets her wings, so to speak, by earning her PhD! Last week I travelled to Lisbon to attend the viva (i.e., PhD defense) of Maria Alexandre Bacharel Oliveira Carreira. I had met with Maria on both of my two prior visits to the Instituto Superior Técnico at the Universidade de Lisboa. I really enjoyed watching her work unfold.

This time, I was a member of her evaluation panel. I curled up with her thesis each night while I was in Brussels. Preparing for this panel event took many hours for me–but it took five years for Maria! During that time Maria gave birth to two children, but that didn’t slow her down much. She kept plugging away at her research.

She conducted extensive analysis of spaces that support teaching and learning. The title of her dissertation (which in Europe is called a thesis) is In-between Formality and Informality: Learning Spaces in University Context. The European term “viva voice” (meaning “live voice”) is so much nicer than the term “dissertation defense” used in the States.

Maria's viva 00After 2.5 hours of presenting her work and answering questions–posed by the panel of 6 experts (I myself had 40 minutes to talk about her work and ask questions of her)–Maria and her many family members and friends who had come to the event left the room. The panel discussed the merits of the work, deliberated, then invited Maria and the crowd back into the presentation room to pronounce her a PhD with distinction. We all went for a celebratory luncheon in the afternoon.

Once Maria has submitted the final version of her thesis, I’ll try to post a link. In the meantime, you may be interested to read two of the articles I have written that have to do with topics in her thesis.

The first is about how the design of school buildings can enhance learning and help us achieve environmental sustainability:


Chance, S. and Cole, J. T. (2014) “Enhancing Building Performance and Environmental Learning: A Case Study of Virginia Beach Public Schools ” City Public Schools. Book chapter from the book entitled “Marketing the green school: form, function and the future.

The second is about university buildings. It also discusses how buildings can promote learning, by serving as examples, modeling values, and getting people engaged. It’s about environmental sustainability and how LEED has become an example of organizational learning (i.e., a big organization that effectively learns from past experience, using it to improve future performance):

Chance, S. (2012) Planning for Environmental Sustainability : Learning from LEED and the USGBCPlanning for Higher Education, Vol. 41, No. 1, Oct-Dec, 2012.

Our RoboSlam facilitators team has been growing this semester as we have been recruiting and training people to conduct their own RoboSlam robot-building workshops.

As it turns out, we also have also recruited a RoboSlam ambassador! Ten-year-old Luke Buckley, who I first met at ResearchNightDublin, attended a workshop on how to assemble robot circuitry that we held during Science Week. He rebuilt his robot on his very own, at home, and then brought his robot to school to show his classmates. He demonstrated how it worked and how to put it together.

The RoboSlam should get Luke into a programming workshop very soon (and then, who knows, maybe a facilitator training session, too). With enthusiasm like his, the sky’s the limit!

Here’s a note his mom sent to let us know about his experience. We love to receive followup stories from our participants–if you have any more, please email them on! We’re just a click away.

Dear Shannon,

I just wanted to say a big thank you for the RoboSlam workshop that my son, Luke attended. He asked me to say thank you from him too.

Just to give you some feedback on the outcome of your RoboSlam outreach activity, I thought that you might be interested to hear that Luke was able to disassemble and rebuild the robot on his own afterwards without any difficulty.  He also brought it into school (Glasnevin Educate Together National School) where he gave a demonstration to his class (31 pupils aged 10-11). Apparently the robot behaved perfectly during the demo and generated plenty of interest!

Many thanks again,


Luke's robot

Luke O’Dowd at home, perfecting his robot design and testing it with an arena he built for himself. This robot is programmed to detect the change in color from black to white and to follow the line.

I’ve been helping out in DIT’s engineering design projects module again this year, which Micheál O’Flaherty, Fionnuala Farrell, and John Nolan have transformed from the ‘Energy Cube’ project we led last year to a project that involves the design of a model spaceship. Photos from yesterday’s performance testing class are included in the gallery directly below. I’m happy to report that all the egg-stronauts survived the crash test fully intact!

This past summer, Micheál and I presented a paper about the Energy Cube project in San Sebastian, Spain. (O’Flaherty M.P., Chance, S., Farrell, C.F. and Montague, C. Introducing New Engineering Students to Mechanical Concepts through an “Energy Cube” ProjectInternational Joint Conference on the Learner in Engineering Education (IJCLEE 2015), San Sebastian, Spain, July 6-9, 2015.)

Fionnuala and I travelled to the UK to present a paper on a different aspect of the project at a conference in Loughborough. (Farrell, C.F., Chance, S., O’Flaherty M.P., An energy cube project for teaching engineering design processInternational conference on engineering and product design education, Loughborough University, England, September 3-4, 2015.)

Earlier in the summer, I presented yet another aspect of our work in Orleans, France. (Beagon, U. et al. (2015) Using Theory to Improve Design Instruction in a New Common First-Year Programme For Engineers. Paper presented at 43rd. annual SEFI Conference June 29th.-July 2nd. 2015, Orléans, France.)

The Loughborough conference included a dinner at the UK National Space Centre, where I got to see historic satellites, space ships and rockets (see photo gallery) alongside engineers who had actually worked on their designs.

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