Alireza Behnejad, a member of the Institution’s Academics' Community, developed the Design, Assemble and Dismantle (DAD) Project to give students hands-on experience of working with a physical model, helping them develop skills in design, team work, communication, and problem solving.
I am the Associate Director of the Spatial Structures Research Centre at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of the University of Surrey. Every year, the department challenges groups of students to Design, Assemble and Dismantle (DAD) a full-scale lattice structure, using a selection of components. The construction takes place within a two-hour timeframe.
The DAD Project accommodates a full-scale teaching kit to concentrate on the process of design and construction of prefabricated light weight structures. Working with full-scale structures creates an ideal educational environment for participants to develop different skills including team work, communication, problem solving and practical considerations in design.
The DAD Project has two phases:
Phase 1: Design
Each group must design a structure using all or part of the available structural components. The outcome of the design is a set of documents including appropriate drawings, list of requirements, method statement for assembly and dismantling, and risk assessment. The documents are passed to another group for phase 2.
Fig 1: Using small-scale and full-scale models to check the practicality of the design in phase 1.
Phase 2: Construction
Each group is given a set of documents prepared by another group in phase 1. The documents must be checked in terms of practicality for construction and be amended if necessary. Then the group assemble and dismantle the structure in two hours. Finally, each group makes a one-minute video about the experience.
The project helps participants learn about:
- Practical considerations in design
- Interpretation of other people’s ideas
- Team work and time management
An additional challenge for the participants in masters level is to model their structure in a FEM package and study the behaviour of the structure under load. They then compare this with the real behaviour of the structure under the same load.
Students at the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad in Iran and the West Institute of Technology & Higher Education in Mexico took part in the latest project. Such collaborations are useful because they introduce more challenges to the project like managing language, cultural and time differences - just like the real-life challenges that face international companies in the construction industry.
The students in Iran had a very similar experience to the Surrey students.
Iranian students after assembling the structure designed by Surrey students, 2017.
The collaboration with the Mexican university was more challenging, as they had a bamboo structure instead of a steel structure. Therefore, a Surrey team designed a bamboo structure which was constructed in Mexico and the Mexican team designed a steel structure constructed by the Surrey team. The groups were in direct contact during the project. Due to having different structural kits, a number of design variations were required.
Surrey students after the assembly of the structure designed by Mexican students, 2017.
The skills students learn through the project can be applied in practice. According to the ‘Learning Pyramid’ produced by the US National Training Laboratories, the retention rate for an active teaching method is much higher than that of a passive method. The average retention rate for ‘practice by doing’ is 75%. This is one of the benefits of educational programmes like the DAD Project.