Asee peer logo

Modernizing an Introductory Civil Engineering Course with Project-Based Learning

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Before the Capstone: Project-based Experiences Early in the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


John Komlos Villanova University

visit author page

John Komlos, Ph.D., is a Teaching Professor with the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Villanova University. Dr. Komlos teaches environmental engineering as well as general civil engineering courses. His research examines the fate and transport of contaminants in natural and engineered systems with an emphasis on water quality, geochemistry, and hydrodynamics. His current research focus is on subsurface metals and nutrient retention mechanisms as they pertain to pollutant removal from stormwater abatement systems.

visit author page

author page

Stephanie L. Walkup PE Villanova University Orcid 16x16


Kevin A. Waters P.E. Villanova University

visit author page

Kevin A. Waters, Ph.D., P.E. is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University. He teaches courses in water resources engineering as well as general civil engineering courses that utilize computer programs such as ArcGIS and AutoCAD.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Villanova University previously offered a sophomore level course introducing students to tools and techniques, such as surveying, understanding maps and plan sets, and field sampling, required for their Civil Engineering curriculum as well as throughout their professional career. This course was originally a project-based course that included many of these core aspects of Civil Engineering but used outdated equipment such as theodolites for surveying and planimeters for measuring areas on maps, rather than modern technologies. Subsequent iterations of the course have included more up-to-date technologies but lacked cohesion, covering a range of topics and Civil Engineering disciplines but not in a way that clearly connected them together.

The goal of the most recent iteration of this course was to increase the use of modern Civil Engineering technologies while reintroducing the semester-long multi-discipline project-based concept used in the original version of the course. To model this approach, a constructed stormwater wetland on campus was used to create a project that thematically tied the course together. This project site allowed the incorporation of multiple data sources and field components, creating opportunities for smaller, individual projects using real data that students completed in preparation for the overall design project. The project required student groups to redesign a walking path next to the wetland to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) while also reducing the risk of flooding during future storm events. Modern Civil Engineering technology incorporated into the course included AutoCAD and ArcGIS as drafting and mapping software packages, respectively, each of which is widely used in the Civil Engineering industry. Furthermore, new total station equipment greatly enhanced the course module in surveying, enabling students to collect existing elevation data for the project in a more efficient way that is commensurate with current industry practices. For the design project and throughout the course, important concepts were incorporated or strengthened that faculty in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Villanova University identified as current curriculum weaknesses, including reading, understanding, and drafting of engineering plans, Excel skills, probability and statistics.

This paper summarizes the results of multiple assessments performed to gauge the success of the course redesign. Included in this paper is i) an overview of the individual projects incorporated throughout the course and how they were tied to the overall project, ii) a discussion of the students’ proficiency in different technologies introduced/reinforced in the course (i.e. Excel, AutoCAD, ArcGIS, surveying) after each respective learning module (assessed via student work), iii) a summary of student survey data regarding their self-identified proficiency in the different technologies both before they were introduced/reinforced and at the completion of the course, as well as their perception of the importance of these technologies to complete the semester-long design project. Results from student survey data also summarizes their perception of the continuity of the semester-long design project (i.e. did the instructors succeed in merging multiple learning objectives into one cohesive overarching problem).

Komlos, J., & Walkup, S. L., & Waters, K. A. (2020, June), Modernizing an Introductory Civil Engineering Course with Project-Based Learning Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34982

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2020 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015