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A Documentary Project in a Civil Engineering Course

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Activities and Assessment for “Awkward ABET Outcomes”

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.40.1 - 23.40.7

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Paper Authors


Seamus F Freyne P.E. Mississippi State University

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On the civil engineering faculty at Mississippi State University, Dr. Seamus Freyne teaches structures courses and his research interests include engineering education.

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A DOCUMENTARY PROJECT IN A CIVIL ENGINEERING COURSEAn innovative documentary project in an undergraduate civil engineering course was found toprovide students with a unique perspective and a chance to demonstrate teamwork skills andcreativity.Team of students in steel structures courses produced short documentaries approximately tenminutes in length. The documentaries were made to be professional and educational in natureand also enjoyable to watch, much like shows on the Discovery, History, and NationalGeographic channels.As a subject, each team chose to profile a different aspect of steel structures. Company profilesincluded interviews with several individuals within a company about the steel structuresbusiness, what services they provide, significant projects, and new challenges and developments.Project profiles included interviews with representatives from several companies about thedesign and construction process, types of structural members and connections, and schedule andcost.Students made contact themselves with companies and professionals they wanted to include inthe documentary. They found most everyone they contacted to be accessible and helpful, thoughthey sometimes needed to work within constraints. To alleviate privacy concerns, thedocumentaries were not made available beyond the confines of the university without the expressconsent of all parties.Students were able to reserve equipment on campus from the department and library, and theyarranged transportation as necessary. Students then went on location to see steel structures andinterview professionals of all specialties and levels. They did preliminary research and preparedsome questions ahead of the interviews and asked additional questions as the conversationsunfolded. Students chose to work both behind the camera and in front of the camera, and theyrecorded at least thirty minutes of material, three times as much as they would eventually use.The documentaries exclusively contained original content.Finally, students edited the documentaries with programs such as iMovie where they organizedthe information they collected and told a story as concisely as possible. They included bothinterviews and narrative, identified all speakers and scenes, and added voice, text, and music asthey wished. Students provided faculty with the final products as well as transcripts of thedocumentaries. The documentaries were showed in class and graded on the basis of quality ofcontent and style of presentation.A total of 70 students in two steel structures courses in different academic years did thisdocumentary project. On a questionnaire, students favorably assessed the documentary projectagainst more traditional team activities like reports and presentations in terms of interest andeducational value. Students generally appreciated the variety the documentary project gave themfrom the weekly routine of textbook problem sets, and they commented extensively on likes anddislikes. In addition to the educational experience, anecdotal evidence suggests that studentsmade job contacts and prompted the loyalty and gratitude of alumni who were subjects of thedocumentaries. A documentary project is easily implementable into almost any undergraduatecivil engineering course and meets several ABET outcomes.

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