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Classical Solutions Are Like Classical Music: Both Pass The Test Of Time

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Are Classical Solutions Outdated?

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.310.1 - 9.310.8



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Paper Authors

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Robert Houghtalen

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

Session xxxx

Classical Solutions Are Like Classical Music: Both Pass the Test of Time Robert J. Houghtalen, P.E., Michael A. Robinson, P.E. Department of Civil Engineering Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Abstract: Classical solutions to civil engineering problems used to be commonplace in engineering practice. A decade ago, classical solutions could be found in most appendices of any engineering report. This is no longer true. Engineering practice is dominated by the use of design or analysis software, and engineering reports are replete with software-generated solutions to traditional civil engineering problems. In short, classical solution techniques have all but disappeared. Since computer solutions to engineering problems have become so dominant in engineering practice, it is fair to ask if classical solutions should continue to be taught in engineering classes.

This paper presents a three-theme approach to engineering education; exposure to background principles (theory), experience with classical solutions, and introduction to design (or analysis) software. The authors have used this technique for many years in undergraduate and graduate engineering education, as well as in ASCE continuing education classes. The rationale for the process is supported by the education literature and the interdependence of the three components is discussed. In addition, an ethical argument is made for the approach when contrasted with an educational approach dominated by exposure to design software. Finally, the results of two surveys are presented. One survey was given to undergraduate engineering students on the value of the three components of this teaching philosophy. The second survey, very similar to the first, was given to practicing engineers attending an ASCE continuing education seminar. The survey results appear to support the importance of teaching theory and classical solutions in order to appropriately use engineering software.

Introduction There is little debate that engineering software has changed the face of engineering practice over the last few decades. It is also changing the face of engineering education. Personal computers (PCs) began to appear in design offices in the mid 1980s, and powerful engineering software for PCs began to appear by the early 1990s. Let’s trace a little of the history of these changes through the eyes of the authors.

The senior author received his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University in 1973. He worked a few years for the Corps of Engineers before returning to the same institution to receive his master’s degree in 1977. While in school, the only computer training he received was a 2-credit course in elementary computer programming. FORTRAN was the computer language of choice at the time. No instruction was given in the use of computer software for the practice of

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Houghtalen, R. (2004, June), Classical Solutions Are Like Classical Music: Both Pass The Test Of Time Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12806

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