New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

Higher Wattage - Improving Energy Literacy through Experiential Learning at Multiple Levels

Carla Ramsdell, Appalachian State University (United States)

Jeff Ramsdell, Appalachian State University (United States)


As we proceed through the 21st century, our ability to responsibly manage our energy resources will determine our future.  This will require that every human is literate about energy conversion and how our energy use is affecting the earth’s energy balance.  However, studies show that few people can describe how our natural resources are converted into electrical and thermal energy.  Our work will report on teaching methods in higher education, from a first-year seminar course through a graduate-level engineering course, that aim to enhance student literacy and engage students in challenging problems encountered in mainstream energy conversion practices.

The first example is in a first year seminar class: “Know Watts Cooking, The Physics of Energy Efficient Cooking,” where students are exposed to a discussion about the physics regarding the energy of our food system.  This course includes student-designed cooking laboratories to test energy consumption of various cooking methods. 

The second example is a physics general education course: “The Physical Principles of Energy and Sustainability,” intended to teach students in a wide range of academic majors about the basic science of energy conversion and climate science. Students become engaged in understanding the physics of various energy conversions through individual energy research projects.

The third example is a graduate curriculum in Renewable Energy Engineering in which students are engaged in real engineering projects with real industry clients and real consequences related to the success of their work.  These projects include not just technical challenges, but also economic analysis and policy research. 

Our work shows that through project-based experiential learning in courses over the span of the entire university career, students are motivated to become involved in the transformation of our energy systems.  These graduates are in-turn critical as we move forward to a more sustainable energy future.  This is a teaching model that can be repeated in many other college courses at various levels, thereby greatly multiplying the effect. 


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