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Extracting Expert Knowledge On Geotechnical Failures For Use In Civil Engineering Education

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.569.1 - 15.569.11



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Paper Authors


Luis Godoy University of Puerto Rico

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Prof. Luis A. Godoy graduated as a Civil Engineer at the National University of Córdoba, Argentina, and received his Ph. D. from University College London (University of London, UK) in 1979. He is Professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez since 1994. Godoy has published three books: Thin Walled Structures with Structural Imperfections (Pergamon Press, 1996), and Theory of Elastic Stability (Taylor and Francis, 2000), and Stability of Structures: A historical perspective (CIMNE, 2009). His research interests include engineering education, structural stability, granular flow, computational mechanics, and plates and shells, and results of his research have been published in more than 150 peer-reviewed journal papers. At present, he has been awarded an NSF-CCLI research grant.

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Pedro Covassi National University of Cordoba (Argentina)

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Pedro A. Covassi graduated as a Civil Engineer at the National University of Cordoba (Argentina) and is currently a doctoral student at the National University of Cordoba in Argentina working in the Geotechnical Laboratory. He has been awarded a scholarship from the National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology (FONCYT) in Argentina.

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

Extracting Expert Knowledge on Geotechnical Failures for Use in Civil Engineering Education Abstract - The work reported in this paper is part of a broader research aimed at developing computer-based tools to teach engineering failures to civil engineering students. To identify what topics and procedures should be taught to engineering students to help them work in the field of analysis of geotechnical failures, interviews were conducted to expert engineers, with emphasis on their methodology of research, their approach to the construction of failure hypothesis, and their reasoning about causes of failure. Seven experts with ample experience in investigating geotechnical failures were interviewed using a structured, face-to-face questionnaire. The list of questions was divided into: (a) General questions about the relation between the expert and his/her work; (b) Questions about a specific case in which the expert was involved; (c) Questions about the methodology used in this investigation; and (d) Questions about the development of failure hypothesis in this case. Open questions were formulated to stimulate having a free discussion about the question domain. An analysis of the interviews indicates that experts use analogy to establish relations between the case in hand and other cases; this may or may not be useful in terms of solving a failure problem, but it becomes part of the knowledge stored by the expert.

Keywords: case-based reasoning, experts and novices, interviews, geotechnical failures.


This paper reports research carried out in order to identify what knowledge and procedures should be taught to undergraduate civil engineering students, and what kind of advice should be given to them, in order to help them work investigating geotechnical failures.

Interest in the work done by experts and novices in various fields of science and engineering emerged in the 1960s as an attempt to implement expert knowledge in artificial intelligence software. This goal of developing computer codes capable of understanding and solving problems was the initial driving force; however, an educational interest in this field emerged in the 1990s 2 under the assumption that understanding how experts solve problems would indicate what should be taught to students on their way to becoming experts. Ahmed et al. 1 focused their work on how experts perform aeronautical engineering design, for which they examined ways in which experts and novices performed design tasks. Such studies are valuable because they emphasize what experts do while solving problems close to their natural environment.

A second approach in this field is the study of cases of historical interest, for which information is available and lessons can be learned. Petroski 2 investigated failure cases to characterize and classify sources of engineering failures. Delatte 3 compiled a collection of civil engineering failures in the form of case-studies, in an attempt to help students gain experience by considering cases investigated by others. The general framework for the study of cases is known as Case-Based Reasoning 4.

A third avenue is the elicitation of expert knowledge by means of interviews. Knowledge acquisition is a crucial topic in knowledge-based engineering, and a common way to capture knowledge from experts is by means of interviews: “The main vehicle for knowledge elicitation is face-to-face discussions between the expert who possesses the domain

Godoy, L., & Covassi, P. (2010, June), Extracting Expert Knowledge On Geotechnical Failures For Use In Civil Engineering Education Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15701

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