Author: Adam Engstrom
Hi again. It’s been a while since I last wrote, coursework, exams etc really piled on towards the end of the semester to say the least. What I thought I’d do in this post is to describe my experiences in the courses I wrote about last time and give a final evaluation of my time in Copenhagen.
Right after my last blog post, we had a week holiday. This was really nice as it gave us a little break after having quite a few deadlines the week before. I decided to stay in Copenhagen this week and tried to every day do some sightseeing I hadn’t already done. I ended up going to quite a few museums as the weather wasn’t great. Most museums have free entry every Wednesday and you can find those that are free on other days as well, so you can basically go to something for free every day. The Danish Architecture Centre had an exhibition about the most iconic constructions by Danish architects and engineers which was free for DTU students which I highly recommend. They also have a really cool bookshop which I bought a couple of books from. That holiday was needed as it had gotten pretty hectic with groupwork and individual assignments.
One common trend that both Elliot and I have noticed is that working in groups here has for the most part been bad. The quality is not up to standard that we’re used to back in Bath. We both had experiences of group members not pulling their weight, not producing pieces of reports they were responsible for etc, and when finally producing a piece of writing it was often so badly that it had to be rewritten by one of us others. What I also noticed is that when group work is planned for in the schedule, people wouldn’t work past the designated hours even though there was still work to do. This was very frustrating.
Another trend I’ve noticed is that courses and students here are heavily computer reliant. Most of the lectures rely on you bringing a laptop and working on it. I don’t particularly mind this but would have been annoying if I had a large laptop I had to carry around. What I don’t particularly like about this is that the Danish students seem to be very reliant on computers. Whereas Elliot and I are used to working out for example structural questions visually and by hand, students here seem to almost directly chuck it into a program like Robot or start coding on Matlab. It seems like they don’t really analyze it themselves at any point.
Right, let’s get into the courses.
Smart, Connected & Liveable Cities has probably been my favorite course. I really enjoyed the broad scope of it and how it made me think about what I value in a city. I enjoyed how different it was in its outline compared to most of the courses I have studied throughout university. The final coursework which consisted of writing a short story about a dystopian future for a city we also wrote a report on was challenging as I, personally , hadn’t done such a thing since like 11th grade of high school. Though different, it made sense why we were given this assignment as it made you think critically about the values of a city, how it functioned etc. The field trips that were part of this course was also a nice as it let me see certain parts of Copenhagen I hadn’t been to before.
I ended up being quite disappointed by Building Energy – Technical Services and Integrated Design. I had hoped it would have been a course where I would’ve learnt about building environment in combination with an energy modeling program but it ended up solely focusing on learning how to use the computer program. It was just not interesting at all, with the lectures just going through certain issues you might run into when using the program instead of teaching us about the subject. I was also placed in a really bad group in this class with none of my group members having any real experience in building environment or building design in general. As I was the only one with any experience of using design programs such as Sketchup or CAD, I ended up doing the architectural bits of the project while others dedicated time to the program and creating the building in it. This created a problem, as a few days before the final hand-in when going through the energy model I noticed they had created a building with 1.5m thick walls! I managed to halve the thicknesses but it was still very thick walls. I couldn’t really trust the engineering judgment of my group members. To summarize, what I thought would be a building environment design project ended up solely focusing on a piece of software, which at least in the UK is not widely used. There was apparently a 10 credit course similar to this called Sustainable Buildings which sounded better and more interesting (although from some I’ve heard it was also a bit useless) which might have been better.
Building Energy was still not as disappointing as Bridge Structures however. As I described in my first post, it started out quite well but as it went on just got worse and worse. Elliot and I didn’t really learn much new and within the fields new to us, not much was learnt as the teaching was really bad. Throughout the course the teacher was very distant, you could just tell he didn’t care. The only reading material we were given was a textbook which he was a co-author on. This book was really bad, as it went deep into the maths of bridges, with pages full of complicated equations that were never actually explained. Most of the courseworks for the class consisted of finding some obscure equation in this book, and then trying to work out what each symbol actually meant, instead of actually testing our understanding of bridges. This was especially true for the last coursework on dynamic loading of bridges, which became a test of our mathematical abilities instead of engineering abilities. The teacher assumed we had done dynamic loading before. As we hadn’t, the coursework was basically impossible to do. The tutorials, where we could get help, were also pretty useless as there was only one assistant there to help 100 students. This meant just sitting around for 2 hours to try and get help, which we didn’t manage for this particular coursework. We also tried to get in touch with the lecturer to get help but he never responded to us and was never in his office. We also never got any feedback on the coursework, so throughout the course we had no idea if we were actually doing things correctly.
The exam was equally as bad. It was an oral exam where Elliot and I were examined together. This exam was really unpleasant. I’ve had oral exams before and I’ve found them really good as it’s usually a quite relaxed atmosphere where the teachers are there to guide you, helping you show as much of your knowledge as you can. This was not the case for this exam. It mostly involved the teachers pitting me and Elliot against each other, when one of us answered a question they would always ask the other one if they agreed with the answer creating doubt. They also asked us very technical questions, such as moduli of various types of cables. In the end we were given a 7, which we thought was low as we had still been able to answer most questions etc. It turned out it was because we hadn’t done well on the dynamic loading coursework, this was infuriating as we had tried to seek assistance countless times and so on.
We ended up filing a complaint about this exam and the course as we felt we had not been treated fairly and had not actually been tested on our understanding of bridges. Looking at the feedback from other students, it’s clear we weren’t the only ones. There were a lot of complaint about the teacher and his behavior such as sitting on his phone, checking mails etc. during the examinations and in some cases even walking out midway through certain peoples’.
I would definitely not recommend this course.
Daylight and Lighting Design was a course I was very happy with and recommend to anyone doing Architectural Engineering or is particularly interested in lighting design, as me. In the end, I ended up learning how to use Velux Daylight Visualizer, DIALux and Daysim. The course also taught me how to use SketchUp well. The only thing I would say for anyone interested is that this course is very computer reliant. All these programs are PC only, which meant I had to run them on Bootcamp for Mac which was a bit complicated. There were also a lot of cases where, as some of these programs are still a bit buggy, the programs would not work and people therefore had a lot of problems completing the courseworks. There’s a computer room on campus with these programs installed but apparently there were a lot of difficulties with those computers as well.
The exam for this course was quite easy. I asked the teacher about this, as I thought that this course was evaluated 100% exam. It turns out he only used the exam as a formal check just to make sure people were not simply copying other peoples’ courseworks. The majority of the grade was based on the courseworks. Again, no feedback was given the coursework which was annoying, but that is about the only bad thing I can say about that course. I really enjoyed it.
In the end, I quite enjoyed Energy & Sustainability. The teaching was not very good, so it relied a lot on the subject being self-taught. When reading it on your own, I found the subject really interesting. The biggest negative about the course was that it was way too much work for 5 credits, with two large pieces of coursework. I described the first assignment in my previous blog, so I won’t write about it again. The second assignment was less work heavy and consisted of performing a lifecycle assessment on a combination of renewable energy systems. We then had to create a poster about this. Our group won a prize for ours. This was one of the few modules where I was happy with my group.
The exam for this course was quite bizarre. It was an electronic exam which meant the exam was taken and answered on your laptop you brought to the exam hall. It was pretty much like taking a written exam but more annoying as it would take ages to type out equations etc. I didn’t see any point in having the exam be electronic as there were no really complicated calculations or real need to use Excel.
To summarize, for this course you do need a real prior interest in sustainability and the environment as the teachers do not really get you enthusiastic about it. I enjoyed it and I do think engineers should take courses like these as an understanding about the taught topics are, in my opinion, really important and a I would expect an even heavier focus on sustainability to become more common in the building industry.
Finally, I also took a 3-week intensive course in January called Environmental Engineering in Developing Countries. This was a very enjoyable course, very different from what we’re used to back in Bath. At the beginning of the course, we were assigned groups and a location either in India or Tanzania that we were going to act as an NGO for and provide sanitation and water supply solutions. What was good about this course was that it was very hands-on. This was largely down to being assigned a real location where we were intervening and that we were really acting as a real NGO. Be warned however that these 3-week courses are very intense, with normal working hours being 9-5 every day. Everyday basically consisted of a short lecture in the morning followed by groupwork for the rest of the day. The first two weeks were spent on coming up with what sanitation and water supply solutions were the most suitable and economical for our area. The final week was spent drafting an application for funding to carry the project, giving an impression of what work within an NGO is really like. It was also really enlightening to talk with the teacher and assistants about the personal experiences of work both in the project areas or elsewhere such as South Sudan.
This course was made available to both bachelor and master students meaning the level of English was not always great as bachelor students are taught in Danish. Everyone in my group were bachelor students. As I speak Swedish we ended up just speaking Danish within the group and gave me some good language practice. I got along really well with the group, the only downside was that none of the others were used to writing in English which meant I ended up proofreading and rewriting other peoples’ sections in the reports we produced.
These courses also seemed much less formal than normal ones as you see the same group of people everyday for three weeks straight. During the first day the lecturer brought his guitar and played a song as part of his presentation and he also arranged a course party during the first week which I sadly couldn’t attend but heard it was good fun.
Lastly, one thing I would like to also talk about is hteir feedback system which was quite different from back in Bath and seemed to be quite an important thing for DTU with teachers taking the feedback very seriously. We were asked to halfway through and at the end of a course to evaluate it and provide feedback, not very different from Bath. What was different however was feedback sessions were held during lectures, summarizing the received feedback, creating a open discussion between lecturer and students where they could voice their opinion. I really enjoyed this as I felt we as students had more say in how things were done, it felt as we had a much greater impact on the course. I felt this also us as students care more about the course and our education.