June 3, 2014, Cairo – Architectural engineering students at The American University in Cairo (AUC) will be designing and building a small-scale model greenhouse next year, based on multiple visits they made this semester to an actual greenhouse at AUC’s Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE). This hands-on approach to learning about sustainable design is part of the new Living Learning Laboratory program created by RISE.“We are trying to develop a living laboratory as part of our campus facilities at RISE,” explained Richard Tutwiler, director of RISE. “Last year, we had students working with our green roof and doing theoretical exercises about solar greenhouses. This semester, we focused on practical greenhouse designs.”
Throughout the Spring 2014 semester, students in Architecture Design Studio III visited the greenhouse and learned about its features, with the purpose of designing a more sustainable greenhouse as part of a final class project. “We worked on proposals for a better designed greenhouse, taking in consideration climate, plant requirements, water, materials and equipment availability,” explained Caroline El Sibai, an architectural engineer junior.
The Living Learning Laboratory program gives students the ability to learn about sustainability concepts through RISE’s facilities, while earning course credit. “It was quite a new experience because apart from architecture history or engineering lab courses, we never get to see what we are taught,” said Salma ElRouby, an architectural engineering junior. “We saw a greenhouse and discussed how it works, the factors affecting it, the factors being controlled and how everything is manipulated. We even got the chance to enter one and see it working.”
Khaled Tarabieh, assistant professor in the Department of Construction and Architectural Engineering and course instructor, noted the importance of incorporating hands-on learning for his architecture class which, he says, allows students to investigate various aspects of the environment and sustainability as a force within the architectural profession. “We are very happy to collaborate with RISE, it provides us with practical ground for applying the knowledge gained in classroom,” he said. “As Dr. Tutwiler always says, this is a ‘learning by doing’ approach, and we truly support it as an important learning method for future architects.”
According to Tutwiler, one of the best greenhouse designs created in Architecture Design Studio III will be selected and students will be able to build a working small-scale model greenhouse based on the design in a class next year. He hopes to incorporate these designs in RISE’s own greenhouse. This practice aligns with the Living Learning Laboratory’s goal to constantly evolve with academic curricula. “The concept of a ‘living lab’ is something that continues to evolve and grow,” Tutwiler explained. “It’s not just a room with the same lab experiment every semester, but it’s something that’s always changing.”
Tutwiler first heard about the concept for a Living Learning Laboratory at a workshop organized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. “The idea behind the Living Learning Laboratory is to have students learn about sustainability efforts through structured activities that are outside the classroom,” he noted. “One message I took seriously is that it’s one thing to get students excited and involved, but to sustain that effort you need to get academic credit for it,” he explained. “So I proposed to the provost’s office the idea of creating a Living Learning Laboratory that would be linked to existing courses and the curriculum so that students would participate in the Living Learning Laboratory at RISE, but also get credit in courses in other departments.”
This past semester, students were involved in the Living Learning Laboratory not only through the architecture class, but also in a botany class taught by Walid Fouad, assistant professor of biology, in which students are growing crops in the greenhouse and observing plants responses to different amounts of irrigation water.
“The whole purpose of the Living Learning Laboratory is to provide a better education for students,” Tutwiler said. “Experiential learning is a fantastic way to gain new knowledge and retain knowledge because you are learning by doing. In a lecture, you retain about 5 percent of the information, if you’re lucky. But if you learn by doing, you retain 95 percent of the knowledge.”