Maria Carreira’s PhD viva on Learning Spaces in the University Context

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.

Luke’s Robot Show-and-Tell

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.

Teaching Design with Spaceships at DIT at the UK National Space Centre

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.

From Lockdown to Lisbon

Lisbon 1Over Thanksgiving week, I was part of a panel to evlauate EU grant applications. These events are normally held in Brussels, and since the flight and accommodations were both cheaper starting on Saturday, I flew in early. Suffice it to say, I arrived just in time for the lockdown. Our evaluation activities were not held in person as a result, but nevertheless, our  panels conducted all the necessary meetings using online tools. We successfully completed all our evaluations on schedule, using software that I believe was to be implemented in January in any case.

The highlights of my time in Brussels are captured in the attached photo gallery, which includes a gratuitous cat photo to mark Brussel’s cat postings on Twitter. The authorities asked citizens not to post info on their activities, so the folks in Brussels posted fun pictures of their cats’ activities during the lockdown, including quite a few PhotoShopped images just for fun. I didn’t have any time free to PhotoShop, but I Tweeted this cat photo in solidarity.

After spending a full week indoors–evaluating work, attending online meetings, submitting reports, reviewing and approving reports, finalizing and submitting my own grant proposal to Science Foundation Ireland, and finishing my read of a PhD thesis (what we in the USA call a dissertation)–I was more than ready to hail a cab to the airport and fly off to Lisbon.

The sunshine, good cheer, and fabulous food of Lisbon were so very welcome after a cold and lonely week alone in Brussels. I’ve attached a gallery of snapshots from Lisbon and, in a post to follow, I’ll tell you about the thesis evaluation panel I attended there.

Micheál’s Sterling Engine

My colleague, Micheál O’Flaherty, brought into class today the little Sterling Engine he has made. This technology is in the early stages of being developed for home heating, to potentially replace the boiler in your home, Micheál says.  You can learn how to make one of your own on YouTube.

It was such good craic! (The Irish sort!)