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Enhancing Engineering Education: Learning To Solve Problems Through Service Learning Projects

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

International Division Poster Session

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Page Count


Page Numbers

13.542.1 - 13.542.21



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Paper Authors


Mary McCormick Tufts University

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Mary McCormick is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tufts University. Her current research interest is in the development of assessment methodologies to measure the educational benefits of experiential learning.

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Chris Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Douglas Matson Tufts University

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David Gute Tufts University

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John Durant Tufts University

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

Enhancing Engineering Education: Learning to Solve Problems through Service-Learning Projects


Over the last few years, concerns have escalated among many national organizations over whether today’s engineering students are being adequately prepared for future challenges; globalization, sustainability, complexity, and adaptability. To address this situation, the National Association of Engineers (NAE), the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) have all generated reports aimed at reforming the existing engineering curriculum. As a result, the NAE’s Engineer of 20201, ABET’s Engineering Criterion 3 (EC 2000) 2, and ASCE’s Body of Knowledge (BOK) 3 all aim at shifting the existing paradigm of engineering curriculum towards a more well-rounded education. The commonality among these three documents is improving students’ problem solving techniques. The future will inevitably bring unanticipated crises; engineers will need to identify the problems and collaboratively formulate innovative, feasible solutions. This research hypothesizes that service-learning can serve as a mechanism that will allow students to develop the necessary problem solving skills. To investigate this hypothesis, an education assessment instrument is employed to examine whether students who have participated in service-learning projects have stronger analytical, practical, and creative abilities than students who have only been exposed to the conventional “classroom” education.


It has been noted that service-learning is recognized by students and faculty as a “valuable pedagogical tool”4; however, the existing data supporting this claim are primarily qualitative. This paper presents a more quantitative assessment to demonstrate the benefits of PBSL by collecting and systematically organizing data that supports the theoretical basis of this form of experiential education. Reaching this goal entails implementation of innovative measurement techniques that provide quantifiable justification of service-learning benefits. The instrumentation used in evaluation is based on the “triarchic theory”5, prescribed by Sternberg and other well known researchers in fields of education and cognitive psychology5,6,7,8,9,10,11. It is believed that the numerical data and pedagogical theory, along with efficacious synergy of achieving a balanced engineering curriculum that prepares engineers for the future will strengthen the argument for service-learning institutionalization in college-level engineering curriculum.

In addition to proposing a method of assessing service-learning outcomes, this study aims to determine whether the students who become engaged in service-learning projects do in fact enrich their engineering education by developing and strengthening problem solving skills. Sternberg’s triarchic theory is based on an intelligence model comprised of analytical, practical, and creative abilities. Since these skills cannot be accurately evaluated through conventional testing methods, reality-based open-ended questions with follow-up group dynamic self- assessments are used to compare the skill sets of engineering students who have participated in service-learning with those who have not.

McCormick, M., & Swan, C., & Matson, D., & Gute, D., & Durant, J. (2008, June), Enhancing Engineering Education: Learning To Solve Problems Through Service Learning Projects Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4107

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