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Active Project Based Learning In Structural Analysis: Field Inspection Of A Steel Truss Bridge

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

How to Effectively Teach Using Teams

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.174.1 - 12.174.11



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Paper Authors

author page

Shane Palmquist Western Kentucky University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Active Project-Based Learning in Structural Analysis: Field Inspection of a Steel Truss Bridge


The undergraduate civil engineering program at our University offers a project-based curriculum. Students have opportunities to engage in projects that develop their understanding of civil engineering practice. Projects are chosen in support of active student engagement, where the role of students is as learners, observers, assistants and practitioners. For example, in a junior level structural analysis course, students worked in teams to perform a physical field inspection of a steel truss bridge. The physical inspection required students to wear special climbing equipment in order to climb the structure. The top chord members of the trusses and the connections were examined hands-on by the students to located and document areas of deterioration. After completing the inspection, the students were required to analyze the trusses based on the inspection findings.

The focus of this paper is to present the results and work performed by the students as well as how the project was integrated into the course from a pedagogical viewpoint. The project included a hands-on inspection of a steel truss bridge and an analysis of the trusses of the structure based on the inspection results. This approach to active project-based learning offers a unique hands-on experience that engineering students typically appreciate.

I. Introduction

There is a significant need to expose undergraduate engineering students to real life engineering projects rather than a simulated project that is more hypothetical than practical1. Unfortunately, practical projects are too often left to the senior capstone course2. However, engineering students upon entering college need exposure to practical projects to better prepare themselves as future engineering practitioners. It is important for engineering students to understand that the study of engineering by nature is both academic and practice based. In the past several decades, greater emphasis has been place on engineering academics3.

Practice based projects should be an integral part of engineering courses and should be spread out over all four years of the undergraduate program4. For civil engineering students, this means getting students out in the field as much as possible. While lecture and lab based engineering education is important, field experience is equally important. Too often, students lack actual field experience.

Students in an academic setting typically have ample opportunity to become proficient in the pencil and paper rigor of engineering problem solving. However, there is a disconnect between academia and engineering practice5. The classroom learning environment is typically a passive experience such as in a lecture hall (with the exception of the laboratory courses), whereas engineering practice is an active experience. Students in a classroom setting need more active

Palmquist, S. (2007, June), Active Project Based Learning In Structural Analysis: Field Inspection Of A Steel Truss Bridge Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2036

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