On 29th of December 2010, all my students for the course Structural Analysis I (Aero103) assembled to give presentations of their work on the course project. It was a real celebration for me.

When I decided to offer a course project for the students, I though I got myself in a real mess ... these are first year Aerospace Engineering students, who have no experience in, practically, anything ... and I am required to give them ideas about what they should do for their course project that will be weighed for half their semester work grade ... what a mess am I in!!!!!!

Someday, I got the idea of offering them different types of projects so that they may chose what best suits their own taste! The idea was to offer them three different "families" of project:
  1. Hardware project. In this family, the students may prepare some devise or apparatus that presents an experiment that presents an a structural problem. (Tension, torsion, bending, ...)
  2. Software project. In this family, the students are required to use some software tool to prepare a "problem solver" for their different topics so that it may be used to solve the homework problems by their coleagues.
  3. Nowhere project (Net-ware project). In this family, the students are required to prepare the course notes they take during the lectures for presentation on the internet using one of the available free tools (Websites, WIKIs, Blogs, Online course authoring tools).

Hardware Projects

Five different projects were proposed by the students in this family:
  1. Hook's apparatus. This project presented the simple Hook's apparatus where you hang a spring then hang some weights and measure the elongation of the spring. For measuring the deflection, the students used a simple laser pointer that moved on a ruler! The pointer's beam could not be pointed steadily on the ruler, so the students used a magnet to stick a long needle horizontally, so that when the beam moves, the needle can still indicate its level.
  2. Twisting apparatus. In this project, the students designed and implemented a device to perform twisting experiments on shafts of different materials.
  3. 3-Point Bending Apparatus. (Slide-show) This device was designed to perform bending experiments on different specimens of different dimensions and materials. The deflections were measured using a dial micrometer.
  4. Sound Detection apparatus. This device was designed to detect noise by fixing a magnet to a flexible membrane that will vibrate when sound falls on it. A coil is fixed to the outer frame of the membrane such that the magnet moves relative to it creating induced current in it.
  5. MR Brakes apparatus. In this project, the students created a device that utilized the properties of MR fluids to break a rotating disk.
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Software Projects

This family was intended to provide the students who make them with experience in programming, meanwhile, the students who use it will have the opportunity to use a tool that helps them solve their homework problems as well as checking their results. The students' choices were:
  1. MATLAB project. (Blog)(Slide-show)In this project, the students were intended to produce a graphical user interface application that is built using MATLAB for the purpose of solving the course problems. They spent a lot of time learning the tools of the MATLAB environment, but their product came up in a good way.
  2. Visual Basic project. In this project, the students were intended to make a similar project to that of the MATLAB one using the Microsoft Visual Basic application. The project did not come out in a good way since the team did not spend enough time learning the tools!
  3. **MAXIMA project**. In this project, the students decided to use a symbolic manipulator to provide the problem solving tool. MAXIMA provided a great platform for that project, however, the outcome was disappointing!
In general, the software project family did not come up with the full outcomes intended from it. In the coming semester, better plans will be created for the project development, and better outcomes will be expected.
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Nowhere (Net-ware) Project Family

In this family of projects, the students were intended to reproduce the course notes they take during the lectures in a form that may be posted on the internet for their colleagues, and everyone on-line, to access it.
  1. NIXTY project. (Slide-show) This project presented the classical course authoring tools. (MOODLE-like). The group used the on-line course authoring website http://www.nixty.com. The content was produced in presentations and documents formats then uploaded to the NIXTY website and the http://Slideshare.com website. (Slide set #1, Slide set #2).
  2. Website Project. Another way of classical course material delivery is the use a website. The group prepared slides and documents that were posted on Slideshare, and Scribd websites. Thhe though, the main content was prepared and presented on the website that they developed on Weebly web-server. Also, many links were provided to external material available on the internet.
  3. WIKI project. (Slide-show) The WIKI idea is based on that everyone can add and edit any page. This provides a powerful tool for collaborative work of students.
  4. BLOG project. (Slide-show) The BLOG project presented another way of course material on-line delivery. The students worked quite well on this project. they even created cooperation with other project team and invented an extra section for difficult problems that they proposed for their colleagues to try to solve.
In general, the Nowhere project family explored new ways of on-line course delivery and opened a great field in that direction for the students to innovate and improvise!