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Developing a Framework for Approaching Open-ended Problems Across the Civil and Environmental Engineering Curriculum

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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

Innovation and Fun in the Civil Engineering Classroom

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Jennifer Mueller PE P.E. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology


Michelle K. Marincel Payne Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Michelle Marincel Payne is an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She completed her Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, her M.S. in environmental engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology, and her B.S. in nuclear engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla. During her graduate studies, Dr. Marincel Payne worked to evaluate the fate of pesticides in drinking water treatment plants, and to develop biomimetic membranes for desalination. Her current interests include undergraduate engineering research and education. Dr. Marincel Payne is co-leading an Undergraduate Research Community to support students learning through research, undergraduate research to remove stormwater pollutants via engineered treatment wetlands, development of courses and research related to appropriate technology with strong emphasis on social sustainability, and frameworks for integrating open-ended problems through students' curricula.

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Year after year, we have found that our students struggle through their Capstone Senior Design Projects, with regards to how to properly define and approach problems, how to connect various components into one cohesive system, and how to apply and synthesize knowledge that they’ve acquired from their sub-discipline specific design courses. Additionally, as educators, we have struggled with providing students with the appropriate amount of information and guidance in helping students develop strategies for approaching and solving open-ended problems. To address this, we developed a framework that helps students (1) understand the relevance of content in lower-level civil engineering courses to real-life applications, (2) make connections through course content across civil engineering sub-disciplines, as well as non-engineering courses, and (3) understand impacts and create value in the broader, holistic perspective of their projects. Additionally, we created a common project platform upon which to build and further develop project objectives in selected required technical design courses. This will facilitate the synthesis of all sub-discipline components to fit together as part of the overall system. The framework was introduced in the freshman introduction to design course with the intent for it to be revisited for specific course projects in the Civil and Environmental Engineering curriculum. The common course project platform was introduced in the freshman surveying course, where students collected geographical data. This project platform was revisited throughout the freshman year through the development of site plans and topographic maps of the project site in graphical communications and geographical information systems courses. This method provides a foundational context for a civil engineering site development that will be used in future courses for designing a multi-story building in a structural design course, analyzing soil samples for foundation design in a soil mechanics course, and developing a stormwater management plan in a water resources course. To assess student learning, we created a site development scenario and asked students a series of questions about their problem-solving approach for creating a solution to the challenge presented. We developed a rubric for rating and comparing the responses. Students also rated their abilities for achieving learning objectives related to approaching open-ended problems. Thus far, we have baseline assessment results prior to full implementation of the developed framework and common course project platform.

Mueller, J., & Marincel Payne, M. K. (2019, June), Developing a Framework for Approaching Open-ended Problems Across the Civil and Environmental Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32633

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