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Investigating the Effectiveness of New Geotechnical Engineering Problem-Based Learning Modules for Student Comprehension and Attitude at Two Universities

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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

PBL and Flipped Classrooms in Civil Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Adam J. Lobbestael Lawrence Technological University

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Dr. Lobbestael is an Assistant Professor at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. He received his PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, specializing in geotechnical engineering. His research interests include dams and levees, slope stability, numerical modeling, geotechnical earthquake engineering, soil liquefaction, and engineering education. Dr. Lobbestael is a member of the United States Society on Dams, the American Society of Engineering Education, and the ASCE Geo-Institute and is a member of the G-I Committee “Embankments, Dams, and Slopes.”

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Matthew Sleep Oregon Institute of Technology

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Matthew Sleep is an assistant professor of civil engineering at Oregon Institute of Technology. Prior to Oregon Tech, Matthew received his PhD at Virginia Tech researching slope stability, levees, transient seepage and reliability. Current research includes reliability, slope stability and geotechnical engineering education.

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Two new problem based learning modules have been developed for a required, junior level introduction to geotechnical engineering course. The modules introduce two common topics in introductory geotechnical engineering courses: phase diagrams and two-dimensional flow of water through soil. Both modules were deployed at University A in City A and one of the modules was deployed at University B in City B. The goal of the problem based learning modules was to enhance the cognitive ability of the students and increase student interest and attitude towards geotechnical engineering. The objective of deployment at two institutions was to assess consistency of the observed effects and repeatability of the modules. Problem based learning has been implemented since the 1960s. The method was first introduced in medical education to enhance the problem solving abilities of students. Despite some mixed results of the effectiveness of problem based learning, the method continues to be employed and is becoming common in civil engineering sub-disciplines such as environmental engineering and geotechnical engineering. These studies however, have been focused only on assessing the effectiveness with regard to cognitive ability and have not addressed student perception and attitude. The effectiveness of the two problem based learning modules was assessed using targeted exam questions at both universities. In addition to cognitive understanding of the topic, pre and post surveys were given to students in the course to assess their attitude towards geotechnical engineering. A modified Attitude on the Subject of Chemistry Inventory (ASCI) was given to the students at both universities. The modified, eight-objective survey assesses two separate subscales, intellectual accessibility and emotional satisfaction. The results of the attitude survey, as well as the instructors’ observations regarding comprehension are presented.

Lobbestael, A. J., & Sleep, M. (2016, June), Investigating the Effectiveness of New Geotechnical Engineering Problem-Based Learning Modules for Student Comprehension and Attitude at Two Universities Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27323

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