VU Engineering students use problem-based learning to sprout grass - wheat grass that is!

Engineers are used to building from scratch but when a group of VU engineering students were asked to grow a cash crop, they were forced out of their comfort zone.

The task, set as part of a problem based learning unit, turned out to be a good lesson in team work.

Each group was given a model house, which they used to propagate and grow the crop. The houses were built by VU technical officers Laszlow Kovaks, Donald Ermel and Laurence Martin. Randall Robinson, lecturer from Engineering and Science at the St Albans campus, acted as technical adviser on botanical aspects. The students also controlled features such as heat, fan, simulated sunlight, water and temperature sensors to create optimum conditions for growth.

On Monday of week 11, when they had connected the control systems, the houses were locked away for 10 days to run automatically.

In week 12, 23 October, three independent judges, Professor Richard Thorn, Head of the School of Engineering and Science, John Chlond, Lecturer in Embedded Systems and Paul Bronson, Language and Communications co-supervisor, chose the winning team. 

Criteria for the best crop: not only how prolific but how healthy the grass appeared.

Students from the winning team were: Henryk Brzozowski, Andrew McFarlane, Tian Jan von Rensburg, Aaron Santos, Andrew Cosstick, Victor Lao, Ryan Parry and Gabriel Biar. 

Problem-based learning requires students to use theory to undertake a practical problem, as well as take responsibility for their learning. The experience gives students more confidence in tackling tasks when they enter the workforce.

Certificates and prizes (a double cinema pass) were awarded to each member of the winning team.

Prize winners with Head of School of Engineering Professor Richard Thorn, far left, and lecturer Alex Simcock

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