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A Case Study of How Project-Based Learning Helps Increase Interest, Understanding, and Relevance in Engineering for Learners

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Use of Technology in Civil Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.16.1 - 22.16.23



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Paper Authors


Taylor Halverson Brigham Young University

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Taylor Halverson earned a double major Ph.D. at Indiana University in instructional technology and design and Judaism and Christianity in antiquity. He earned Master’s degrees from Indiana University and Yale University. His Bachelor’s degree was earned at BYU. Dr. Halverson spent several years working for Cisco in Silicon Valley where he designed creative learning experiences for thousands of customer service agents spread across the globe. Dr. Halverson currently works as a Teaching and Learning Consultant at BYU, assisting faculty members to enhance the student learning experience. He also is a part-time faculty member at BYU, teaching a variety of courses including “The History of Creativity in the Arts, Sciences, and Technology,” and a part-time faculty member at Capella University, teaching online Ph.D. learners in instructional technology and design. Dr. Halverson regularly presents at academic conferences and recently published a book on instructional design theory and practice.

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Rollin H. Hotchkiss Brigham Young University

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Rollin H. Hotchkiss is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Brigham Young University (BYU) and holds the Ira A Fulton College of Engineering and Technology Leadership chair within the College. Dr. Hotchkiss has maintained a research interest in learning effectiveness in engineering during his years at BYU and at his previous posts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Washington State University. He and his student co-author won the ASEE Best Zone Paper in 2008 for their work on computer-based instruction for engineering education in the developing world. Dr. Hotchkiss also conducts research in stream restoration with an emphasis on upstream fish passage through culverts. He serves as the president of the Environmental and Water Resources Institute, part of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He is a registered professional engineer and holds a specialty licensing certificate from the American Academy of Water Resources Engineers.

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A Case Study of How Project-Based Learning Helps Increase Relevance and Motivation for LearnersFluid Dynamics can be a particularly challenging and intimidating subject for many students inall engineering disciplines. However, by helping learners actively discover the relevance andapplication of the course principles to their own lives, their motivation and enthusiasm forlearning increases. At Brigham Young University (BYU), we designed a competitive project-based learning curriculum for the 26 students in the Civil Engineering Hydraulics and Fluid FlowTheory Course for the winter semester 2010. During the course of the semester, studentscompeted in small groups to develop an engaging story board that would teach an especiallychallenging engineering topic to those outside their discipline. The top three winning projectseach won prize money. Additionally, the top project won the opportunity to have their projectidea professionally developed. Though students felt a bit of apprehension early on in thesemester about this project-based approach, by the end of the semester, the students wereunanimous in their affirmation that this learning approach helped them to develop new skills(such as being better communicators and teachers of engineering principles), perform better inteams, develop deeper interest in civil engineering, and to see the application of civil engineeringprinciples to many areas of their everyday lives.Using two different surveys, we solicited feedback from the students in two main categories (1)suggested pedagogical improvements and (2) impact that the project-based learning approachhad on student learning. This presentation will share the results of the survey data. Based onsurvey data, students felt that the competitive project-based approach to learning was helpful tothem because they were required to think in new and innovative ways and learn to enhance theircommunication skills, though they thought the timing and the sequence of some aspects of theproject-based portion of the course could be revised to better fit the course flow and structure.As for the impact that the project-based approach had on student learning, we saw that whenstudents were asked to find creative ways to teach the engineering principles to others they foundgreater relevance in the course material to their own lives and greater motivation to master thematerial. Learner interest (or motivation) in the material and seeing relevance of the material totheir own lives are two of the primary predictors of life-long learning.

Halverson, T., & Hotchkiss, R. H. (2011, June), A Case Study of How Project-Based Learning Helps Increase Interest, Understanding, and Relevance in Engineering for Learners Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17298

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