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Creating a Library of Group Activities that Promote Active Learning in the Undergraduate Soil Mechanics Classroom

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Active and Out There: Labs and Active Learning

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Gretchen Bohnhoff P.E. University of Wisconsin, Platteville Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Gretchen Bohnhoff is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Her research interests have a common theme of sustainable and novel solutions to waste containment and the fate and transport of contaminants in the geoenvironment. Dr. Bohnhoff teaches a variety of undergraduate courses at UW-Platteville including Geotechnical Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Foundation Design, and Groundwater Hydrology.

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Kristin M. Sample-Lord P.E. Villanova University

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Dr. Kristin Sample-Lord is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University, with expertise in geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering. Her research focuses on soil barrier systems for protection of human health and the environment and geotechnical aspects of stormwater control measures. Dr. Sample-Lord teaches a number of undergraduate and graduate courses, including Geology for Engineers, Soil Mechanics and Geoenvironmental Processes.

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A digital library of group activities that promote active learning in the undergraduate soil mechanics classroom was developed through a collaborative effort between Villanova University (VU) and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (UW-Platteville). The intent was to develop multiple activities that could be shared with geotechnical faculty via dissemination through the United States Universities Council on Geotechnical Education and Research (USUCGER), which would be easy to implement in existing soil mechanics courses, with little to no preparation. Sixteen different activities were developed with the help of undergraduate and graduate students at both VU and UW-Platteville, and support from USUCGER. The materials for each activity include: (1) a summary sheet for the instructor with learning objectives and instructions; (2) the activity handout to provide to the students; (3) the solution set; (4) an example rubric for the activity; and (5) supplemental information, if applicable. The required in-class time for the activities ranges from as short as one to two minutes to 50 minutes, to allow for flexibility in implementing the activities in existing courses. All of the activities were created for small informal groups. The activities vary widely in their format (e.g. "typical" quantitative problems, group jigsaws, concept questions/discussion, group presentations, calculation QA/QC) to complement different teaching styles. All of the activities included in the library were reviewed by four other faculty members with experience teaching undergraduate geotechnical courses at a range of universities. Several of the activities also were piloted in an undergraduate soil mechanics class at UW-Platteville in spring 2017 and then most of the activities were implemented in fall 2017 and spring 2018. Scores from student evaluations from semesters before the activities were implemented were compared with student evaluations and surveys conducted after implementation of the new active learning format. The implementation of the activities showed improvement in student perception of the clear presentation of complex material, instructor confidence in course content, encouragement of questions, and instructor investment in student learning. In addition, students were more interested in geotechnical engineering, and felt the small group activities provided a real world context to the topics covered in geotechnical engineering.

Bohnhoff, G., & Sample-Lord, K. M. (2019, June), Creating a Library of Group Activities that Promote Active Learning in the Undergraduate Soil Mechanics Classroom Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32557

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