June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
26.151.1 - 26.151.11
Active Learning Pedagogies Promoting the Art of Structural and Civil Engineering Students who switch out of STEM majors frequently cite uninspiring introductory lecture courses and poor teaching as among the primary reasons for this decision. An active learning approach to teaching (i.e. one that emphasizes learning by doing) has been shown to improve student retention in STEM, as well as increase student motivation and interest. Students taught using active learning remember more, and are better able to apply their knowledge. Motivated by these findings, we report on our progress in updating the design curriculum of a large introductory engineering class using active learning and interactive teaching methods. The elements of this course and interactive exercises that we develop will be made available for wider dissemination and adoption through workshops and an online repository of materials. Structures in the Urban Environment is a large-enrollment introductory course that introduces liberal arts and engineering students to the creative discipline of civil and structural engineering through case studies of the works of great engineers and designers who innovated new forms of structural art. A central focus of this course is for students to experience engineering as a creative discipline, allowing for aesthetic exploration within a set of constraints. Students examine the interplay between elegance and efficiency, and explore the idea of structural art. We incorporated the use of the Westpoint Bridge Designer simulation software to this course to help students visualize how forces flow through the structures they encounter in class. Additionally, we incorporated physical models and kinesthetic activities allowing students to develop a physical intuition for concepts like the cantilever principle in the Firth of Forth bridge, or the relation between base size and resistance to overturning moment in the Eiffel Tower. These activities illustrate how structures respond to loads, highlighting the different elements in compression and in tension, and provide insights into how structures can be optimized for greater safety and efficiency. This culminates in a virtual bridge design competition conducted in recitation (to complement a physical bridge design competition in lab), where students apply the principles of optimization they have learned, and compete to design bridges that are both efficient and elegant. The active learning exercises that we present include think-pair-share questions, interactive lecture demonstrations, and project based learning through interactive simulations. These exercises promote collaborative learning and peer teaching, provide formative assessment for the instructor, and can easily be implemented in a classroom setting. One of our overarching goals with this course is to help correct false perceptions that engineers are largely ‘technicians’, as opposed to creative artists. We will be conducting interviews to research the effect of this belief on STEM enrollment and attrition. Another overarching goal is to catalyze the adoption of these materials across diverse institutions, to engage a broader and more diverse audience in the art of structural and civil engineering. We will also be assessing the effectiveness of these active learning based course enhancements and the adoption of these materials in other institutions.
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