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First-Year Civil Engineering Students’ Knowledge and Confidence in the Use of Visualization and Representation Tools to Solve Engineering Problems

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Design in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Joan V. Dannenhoffer P.E. Syracuse University

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Joan Dannenhoffer is Associate Teaching Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Syracuse University. She received her M.S. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Connecticut and M.B.A. and B.S. in Civil Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is a Professional Engineer in the State of Connecticut. Her research interests are in engineering education pedagogy, especially in implementing active learning strategies in large classes. She currently teaches Engineering Statics, Mechanics of Solids, Introduction to Engineering, and Intro to Sustainability for Civil and Environmental Engineers.

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Sinead Mac Namara Syracuse University

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Sinéad Mac Namara is a structural engineer and Associate Professor teaching in both the School of Architecture and the College of Engineering of Syracuse University. She studied civil and structural engineering at Trinity College Dublin and Princeton University. Her research is concerned with structural art, shell structural design, alternate pedagogies for interdisciplinary education, and investigations to foster creativity and innovation in engineering curricula. Mac Namara co-authored a book Collaboration in Architecture and Engineering released in 2014 and her research has been published in engineering and architecture education journals, nationally and internationally. She has received awards for innovative teaching from Princeton University, Syracuse University, and the American Society for Engineering Education. She also engages in design and design-build projects as a collaborator with her architecture students and colleagues. This work has been recognized with awards from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, the Architectural Institute of America and the City of New York.

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First-Year Civil Engineering Students’ Knowledge and Confidence in the Use of Visualization and Representation Tools to Solve Engineering Problems

First-Year Civil Engineering students come to their programs with a diverse array of skills and motivations. Previous research by the authors indicates that students often choose engineering as a major due to guidance counselor and parental recommendations based on their performance in math and science courses in high school and the professional prospects afforded by an engineering degree. So, we might expect that students arrive in college relatively confident in their skills in mathematics, but perhaps less so when it comes to writing or the other skills necessary to succeed in engineering courses. Further, their knowledge of the engineering profession itself is often minimal.

The authors have noticed in particular a marked resistance to engagement at any level to use visualization or representation to solve engineering problems. This introductory study evaluates a group of first-year civil engineering students at X University with regard to their attitudes about their current skills, the skills they see as most important for success, and the specific tools of visualization with which they have familiarity. Based on the results of a survey given to the students at the beginning of the semester, making sketches, diagrams, graphs, etc. and using them as tools to learn, to investigate, and to document are skills that students are not familiar or comfortable with when they enter the program. This paper will describe the results of that survey and the introduction of four specific assignments that are designed to both improve these skills and foster appreciation for these skills in the first-year engineering design course. The authors will evaluate the impact on the students’ perception of their abilities and their level of comfort in using these visualizations skills to solve engineering problems.

Dannenhoffer, J. V., & Mac Namara, S. (2019, June), First-Year Civil Engineering Students’ Knowledge and Confidence in the Use of Visualization and Representation Tools to Solve Engineering Problems Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32845

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