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Case-Based Instruction: Lessons Learned

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

International Experience, Effective Instruction, and Student Exchange Programs

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Page Count


Page Numbers

22.312.1 - 22.312.13



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Paper Authors


Waddah Akili Iowa State University

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Waddah Akili: Professor (retired) of civil engineering & visiting faculty at Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA. Has been in the academic arena for over 38 years. He has held academic positions at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Penna (1966-70); at King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (1970-87); & at The University of Qatar, Doha, Qatar (1987 - 2000). Akili’s major field is geotechnical engineering. His research interests and experience includes: characterization of arid and semi arid soils, shallow and deep foundations, pavement design and materials, concrete durability, and contemporary issues of engineering education, in general, and those of the Middle East in particular. He is presently a geotechnical consultant in Ames, Iowa.

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Case-based Instruction: Lessons LearnedAbstract: Lecturing or “teaching by telling” is the traditional and the most widely usedform of instruction in most engineering institutions. The major drawback of the lectureapproach is that it usually results in long periods of uninterrupted instructor-centered,expository discourse, relegating students to the role of passive spectators.(1)This method,however, continues to be the most dominant teaching method in engineering institutions,world –wide, and used in most classes.To improve the relevancy of engineering education, teaching, or more fundamentally,student learning needs to be emphasized. Learning, as defined today, is more than theacquisition of knowledge. Bloom (2) has defined six increasing levels of learning and/orcomprehension, beginning with fact-based knowledge, and followed by: comprehension(using factual information and explaining facts), application (applying facts to solveproblems, analyzing concept structures), synthesis (creating something new by usingdifferent components), and evaluation (exercising judgments and comparing new factswith existing knowledge). It is said that traditional teaching engages only the first level oflearning as students down load information from a traditional lecture and upload it backon an examination and or a report. Not only does traditional teaching fail to take studentsthrough all six levels of learning, it also fails to engage students in the teaching-learningprocess. (3, 4, 5).In civil engineering education today, there is a growing need to replace traditionalapproaches of teaching by utilizing pedagogies of engagement (5), and simultaneouslybringing practical problems and issues that practitioners usually face, into theclassroom.(6) Pedagogical studies have demonstrated that the case study/ case historyapproach to engineering education provides a greater understanding of the multifacetednature of civil engineering.(7,8) They can be used to simulate a variety of learningprotocols such as: design and analysis experiences, interdisciplinary issues and concerns,costs, hazards, owner preferences, and compliance with standards and guidelines. Cases,by and large, describe situations, projects, problems, decisions, etc., and are primarilyderived from actual experience, and do reflect thoughts, outlook, and concerns of:managers, professionals, regulatory agencies, communities, and owners. Cases are alsowidely used in other disciplines such as: education, medicine, and law.This paper describes the steps taken in planning, developing, and executing a case study/case history course in geotechnical/ foundation engineering at an international university.The paper sheds light on: how a “workable” format for the course was arrived at, theorganization of the course, and the results of evaluating the effectiveness of this approachversus traditional lecturing. Problems and challenges that could arise when offering thecourse for the first time are also addressed. Embedded in this experience and its relatedprotocols are the emphases on engineering design and the practice, teamwork andleadership development, organizational management, and oral and writtencommunication skills. The paper concludes by confirming that discussions, through anopen forum, are judged to be superior to traditional lectures in improving criticalthinking, cultivating desirable personal attributes, and acquiring problem-solving skills.Bibliography1. Johnson, D.W., R.T. Johnson, and C.A. Smith, “Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity,” School of Education and Human Development, the George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 1991.2. Bloom, B.S., Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals by a Committee of College and University Examiners, McKay Co., Inc., New York, NY, 1956, pp.189-193.3. McKeachie, W., “Research on College Teaching,” Educational Perspectives, Vol.11, no.2, May 1972, pp.3-10.4. Felder, R.M., “Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles in College Science Education,” Journal of College Science Teaching, Vol. 23, no.5, 1993, pp.286-290.5. Smith, K.A., S.D. Sheppard, D.W. Johnson, and R.T. Johnson, “Pedagogies of Engagement: Classroom-Based Practices,” ASEE. Journal of Engineering Education, vol.94, no.1, January, 2005, pp.87-101.6. Akili, W., “Integrating Practical Experience in a Geotechnical/Foundation Engineering Class: The Role of the Adjunct Faculty,” Proc. The 2004 ASEE Annual Conf., (Session 2615), Portland, Oregon, June, 2005.7. Chinowsky, P.S., and J. Robinson, “Enhancing Civil Engineering Education through Case Studies,” ASEE Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 86, no.1, Jan. 1997, pp.45- 49.8. Raju, P.K., and C.H. Sankar, “Teaching Real World Issues through Case Studies,” ASEE Journal of Engineering Education, vol.88, no.4, Oct., 1999, pp.501-508.

Akili, W. (2011, June), Case-Based Instruction: Lessons Learned Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17593

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