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Bringing Creativity into the Lab Environment

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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

23.253.1 - 23.253.21



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Paper Authors


Clifton B. Farnsworth Brigham Young University

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Dr. Clifton Farnsworth received his B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from Brigham Young University and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Utah. He worked as a geotechnical engineer for eight years with the Utah Department of Transportation, spent three years as an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas, Tyler, and has a current appointment as an assistant professor of construction management at Brigham Young University.

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Ronald W. Welch The Citadel

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Dr. Ron Welch, P.E., received his B.S. in Engineering Mechanics from the United States Military Academy in 1982. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1990 and 1999, respectively. He became the dean of Engineering at The Citadel in July 2011. Prior to his current position, he was the department head of Civil Engineering at The University of Texas at Tyler from Jan. 2007 to June 2011. Dr. Welch served in the Corps of Engineers for over 24 years, eleven of which he spent as faculty at the United States Military Academy.

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Michael J McGinnis University of Texas at Tyler

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Dr. Michael J. McGinnis is an assistant professor and the McNally Civil Engineering professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Tyler. Prior to joining academia, he worked for nearly five years as a project manager and structural analyst for Electric Boar Corporation.
Dr. McGinnis' research interests include nondestructive evaluation of structures, response of structures to extreme events such as fire and earthquake, and improving undergraduate engineering education. He has published numerous articles concerning the application of digital image correlation, a non-contact photographic method of determining deformations, to study the behavior of unique structures under various loadings. In teaching and mentoring areas, Dr. McGinnis has been recognized by his peers as the ASCE ExCEEd teaching awardee in 2011, and has been awarded the ASCE Student Chapter Advisor of the year in Region six multiple years.

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Geoff Wright Brigham Young University

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Bringing Creativity into the Lab EnvironmentThe ASCE Body of Knowledge (BOK) establishes the need for civil engineering students to develop criticalthinking skills. One area in which students can develop the requisite level of critical thinking ability isthrough the laboratory component of their undergraduate education. In BOK Outcome #7 (experiments)it states that “inquiry-based learning emphasizing the method of discovery helps to develop the criticalthinking skills necessary in learning the experimental process.” In addition, critical thinking helps“develop engineering judgment, necessary in interpreting and analyzing results of experiments.”Laboratory experimentation is a critical component of a civil engineering student’s undergraduateeducation and there is a need for civil engineering programs to continue to place more emphasis oninquiry-based learning within the laboratory environment. The primary purpose of this paper is topresent one program’s efforts in establishing inquiry-based lab experiments and fostering studentcreativity within the laboratory environment.One of the key elements in inquiry-based lab experimentation is to allow students to formulate theirown lab experiments and exercise creative thought while developing their own ideas, applications,processes, and analysis techniques. A traditional lab setting often includes having the students followstep-by-step procedures as outlined in the lab manual. However, our intention is typically not to havethe students trained to become lab technicians. Rather we desire that lab time enhance and supplementthe student’s understanding of concepts being taught within the classroom, while understanding howand why experiments are conducted as prescribed and thinking “outside of the box” on possible ways toconduct field experiments. This paper provides a general overview of how student innovation wasperformed during lab sessions within multiple lab courses such as introduction to engineering,measurements, and soils. Some of the additional questions that will be answered by this paper include:What are the specific labs that students conduct? What are the primary objectives of these labs? Howdo these affect the student’s abilities in understanding foundational principles in the classroom? Whatare the innovative requirements? What other unexpected benefits have come from this type of labenvironment? How is the department assessing whether or not the students are meeting the desiredoutcome? What are the results of the assessment process? How is the assessment process continuing tostrengthen the desired result of these innovative types of lab sessions? The target audience for this paper includes instructors and programs that may struggle with knowinghow to bring creativity into, those that desire to establish inquiry-based learning within, and those whocan benefit from allowing more open-ended processes within the laboratory setting. This paperdemonstrates our perceived benefits from this type of laboratory approach and how allowing creativityhas helped the students to think more critically. Finally this paper summarizes student feedback aboutthese types of lab sessions and demonstrates how this type of environment has had a positive effect ontheir learning.

Farnsworth, C. B., & Welch, R. W., & McGinnis, M. J., & Wright, G. (2013, June), Bringing Creativity into the Lab Environment Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19267

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