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Has The Moment Passed For Classical Solutions? Definitely Yes, Definitely No

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Are Classical Solutions Outdated?

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.663.1 - 9.663.11

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Paper Authors

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Marvin Criswell

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

Session 3515

Has the Moment Passed for Classical Solutions? Definitely Yes and Definitely No Marvin E. Criswell Department of Civil Engineering, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80512-1372


Today’s computing tools facilitate rapid numerical solutions carried out to a precision unimaginable only a few decades ago. An initially logical conclusion flowing from this capability may be that the “classical” solution methods once used extensively in past professional practice for many engineering problems can now be declared obsolete and then discarded. But, many of these methods have purposes in the classroom and in engineering practice other than just producing numerical answers. They can be very useful in teaching behavior, carrying out preliminary design, and checking software output for reasonableness. In what can be considered a paradigm shift, today’s young engineers are themselves no longer the primary producers of numerical solutions. They are increasingly users and managers of powerful software which carry out nearly all computationally-intensive tasks. We have also largely passed through a second stage computational maturity when engineers more often needed to prepare computer programs to carryout analysis and sometimes design. In the present third state, engineering educators need to prepare the graduates to be knowledgeable, efficient and safe designers in a professional environment where commercial software is pervasive. Classical methods, including moment distribution, and many approximate techniques have a reduced role in giving the graduate the skill to produce “exact” numerical solutions, but can and should have an even increased role, when appropriately used in synergy with computer resources, in equipping the graduate with the understanding and wisdom needed to be a successful practitioners in the present and future professional environment.


The engineering student and young engineer today almost takes for granted today’s computing environment which facilitates almost immediate numerical solutions to complex problems and with a computational precision unimaginable only a few decades ago. The necessity of using the “classical” (and often approximate) hand methods to get primary analysis results and design answers is in the past. It might be considered natural and logical that the old classical methods (both numerical and graphical) be completely replaced with “modern” methods. This conclusion uses the philosophy of why continue to teach methods that have become unnecessary and are thus obsolete. But let us not be so hasty. What are all the applications of these methods in the classroom? Can they be used to help the students to understand how structures and other engineered artifacts and systems behave, and can they help designers create and complete

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Criswell, M. (2004, June), Has The Moment Passed For Classical Solutions? Definitely Yes, Definitely No Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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