New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Case studies have been used in engineering programs and classes as examples of “what not to do.” The authors created a one hour elective course, geared at upper level undergraduate students in a general engineering program. This course focused on engineering case studies, but with a twist: instead of focusing solely on engineering failures, successes were also included. The course was implemented in a seminar format. Early in the semester, guest lecturers including faculty and program alumni working in industry presented a case study of their choosing. As the students gained familiarity with the presentation style, student pairs presented case studies. Each week, two to three presentations were followed by general discussion. Students completed a short synopsis form that included a summary of the main points and the key takeaway for each case. At the end of the semester, the students wrote personal reflection papers on what they learned in the course during the semester. Leaving the choice of the cases discussed to the presenters (both guest lecturers and students) resulted in inclusion of cases beyond the classic examples (e.g. the Challenger, the Ford Pinto, the Hindenburg, the Titanic). Some of the less widely discussed failures presented included the groundwater contamination at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the structural failure of the Skyline Tower in Fairfax County, VA, the crash of Swissair Flight 111, and the excessive deflection of the London Millennium Bridge. Also interesting were the various engineering successes such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon skywalk, and rural electrification. By expanding the course topics to include successes, what, if anything, did the students gain? Comments from the students’ papers are insightful, and indicate that inclusion of successes enhanced the students’ learning. One observation of note from this first offering was the emergence of some common threads among both the failures and successes, including most notably the role of effective communication. The course will be offered again in the spring of 2016, and the authors are exploring additional methods of assessing the students’ learning and will work to emphasize the common threads.
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