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Concept Inventory for Engineering Hydrology – Development and Implementation

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Civil Engineering Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.389.1 - 26.389.20



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Paper Authors


Isaac W. Wait Marshall University

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Isaac W. Wait is an Associate Professor of Engineering in the Division of Engineering at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. He conducts research and teaches courses in water resources and environmental engineering, and is a registered Professional Engineer in the States of Ohio and West Virginia.

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E. James Nelson Brigham Young University

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Concept Inventory for Engineering Hydrology – Development and Implementation  Concept Inventories assess students’ understanding of key foundational concepts, rather than problem‐solving skills, and have been developed for a variety of engineering disciplines. Concept Inventories can be used at the beginning of a course to identify students’ commonly‐held misconceptions, existing areas of conceptual strength, and to find which concepts have been mastered by students by the end of a course. Courses in engineering hydrology are typically offered to students at the senior level, and are unique among such senior‐level courses in that there are few prerequisite courses that directly address many of the concepts that will be studied.  Although courses in fluid mechanics or hydraulic engineering may be identified on paper as prerequisites, neither generally address the aspects of atmospheric science, subsurface water movement, and watershed modeling that are key in hydrology. Therefore, it is particularly useful at the beginning of a course in engineering hydrology for an instructor to have a clear understanding of which foundational concepts students may already understand, and likewise where there are significant conceptual gaps that need particular attention. Concept Inventories can be useful in identifying both, and also for assessment purposes at the conclusion of a course to identify student learning gains. A six‐question, multiple‐choice Concept Inventory was developed for a senior‐level undergraduate engineering course in hydrology, and was administered to 19 students during the semester. Questions addressed students’ understanding of: (1) the effect of urbanization on runoff [63% of students selected the correct answer at the beginning of the semester], (2) the purpose of culverts [53% correct], (3) the underlying cause of precipitation [32% correct], (4) the effect of antecedent moisture condition [26% correct], (5) the cause of aquifer drawdown [37% correct], and (6) the definition of floodway fringe [21% correct]. Distractors were written after reviewing incorrect answers from open‐ended questions on a previous semester’s final examination, in order to identify commonly‐held conceptual misunderstandings. As might be expected, students fared poorly on questions that included the use of specialized jargon related to hydrology. One unique aspect of the student population during the semester that this concept inventory was developed is that 11 of 19 students were transient international students, spending one year abroad on a government‐sponsored program.  The average among these international students on the beginning‐of‐semester pre‐test was 1.4 questions correct out of 6, compared to 3.6 questions correct out of 6 for domestic students.  These results identify the unique challenges faced by non‐native English speaking students when learning engineering concepts. Additionally, since student pools vary from semester to semester, use of a concept inventory can free an instructor from having to assume what students know at the beginning of a course, and instead allow for more targeted conceptual instruction. Continued development of this Concept Inventory will include additional analysis of student performance at the conclusion of the semester currently underway, along with identifying other key areas within hydrology that represent what is needed for a ‘working knowledge’ in the field.   

Wait, I. W., & Nelson, E. J. (2015, June), Concept Inventory for Engineering Hydrology – Development and Implementation Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23728

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