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Enhancing Student Cognition and Affect through the Creative Art of Structural and Civil Engineering

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Classroom Practice III: Student-Centered Instruction

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Evelyn Hanna Laffey Princeton University

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Dr. Evelyn Hanna Laffey is the Associate Director of the Princeton University Council on Science and Technology. Previously, she served as the Assistant Dean for Engineering Education at the Rutgers University School of Engineering. She has a bachelors degree in mathematics and doctorate in mathematics education from Rutgers University. She has over fifteen years of experience working with K-16 students and educators. She is interested in exploring the intersection of cognition, affect, and identity within STEM education and operationalizing research findings to provide an excellent and equitable education to all students.

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Maria E. Garlock Princeton University

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Maria Garlock is an Associate Professor at Princeton University in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering where she is the Director of the Architecture and Engineering Program. Her scholarship is in resilient building design and in studies of the best examples of structural designs of the present and past. She has co-authored the book Felix Candela: Engineer, Builder, Structural Artist and has recently launched a MOOC titled "The Art of Structural Engineering: Bridges."

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Aatish Bhatia Princeton University

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Aatish Bhatia is an Associate Director (Engineering Education) in Princeton University's Council on Science and Technology. He works with faculty in engineering and related disciplines on incorporating active learning in the classroom and bringing science and engineering to a wider audience.

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The purpose of this evidenced-based practice paper is to report on the Creative Art of Structural and Civil Engineering (CASCE), which is a multi-institutional, NSF-funded educational project. The current paper will report on one aspect of CASCE - the impact of the Princeton University Structures and the Urban Environment (heretofore Structures) course on students’ cognition and affect. With an enrollment of approximately 150 students, the course aims to enhance cognition within the domain of STEM-literacy for students majoring in engineering, the humanities, or social sciences. Additionally, the course aims to positively impact students’ affect by attending to their motivation, attitudes, beliefs and self-efficacy towards STEM content and engineering as a creative profession.

National discourse on STEM education urges educators to attend to the growing demand for a STEM-literate populace. With fewer than 40% of college students intending on majoring in STEM graduating, there is a need to address retention and graduation in higher education. Furthermore, as noted by the NAE and ASEE it is important for all students to appreciate the central role of engineering in all facets of modern life. The civil engineering ideas disseminated by the Structures course are vital to STEM non-majors and majors alike, because civil engineers design and build the systems that give us shelter (buildings), enable transportation (roads, bridges, ports), and bring us water and power (dams, reservoirs). Also, the faculty utilized evidenced-based teaching practices with the aim of enhancing students’ cognition and affect, as well as addressing retention and overall student satisfaction.

Three research questions guided the evaluation: (1) As reported by the students, to what extent did the course enhance students’ STEM-literacy? (2) How did the course impact students’ affect with regards to their motivation, attitudes, beliefs, and engineering self-efficacy? (3) To what extent did the use of evidence-based teaching practices impact the student experience in the Structures course? To answer the guiding research questions, we utilized a mixed-method approach to collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data was collected in the form of course grades and surveys to measure impact on cognition and affect. Focus groups, individual interviews and open-ended questions on surveys garnered qualitative data. Principles of Grounded Theory were utilized to analyze the qualitative data. Preliminary findings from the analysis of the quantitative data revealed: 89% of students experienced moderate to great gain in interest in engineering; 85% reported moderate to great gain in recognizing engineering as a creative profession; 83% indicated moderate to great gain in understanding how engineering helps people address real world issues; and 78% of students reported a moderate to great gain in their STEM abilities.

If accepted, we will report on the evaluation of the Structures course that has given students the opportunity to explore engineering as a creative profession and, as a result, it has positively changed perceptions about engineering and the societal role of engineers for students from various majors. The course also provides a framework for introducing engineering to students majoring in the humanities and social sciences.

Laffey, E. H., & Garlock, M. E., & Bhatia, A. (2016, June), Enhancing Student Cognition and Affect through the Creative Art of Structural and Civil Engineering Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26707

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