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Multi-Institutional Physical Modeling Learning Environment for Geotechnical Engineering Education

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Involving Undergraduates in Research

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.918.1 - 23.918.16



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Paper Authors


Tarek Abdoun Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Professor Dr. Tarek Abdoun is the Iovino Chair professor and associate dean of Research for the School of Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). He is the technical director of NSF Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) Facility at RPI.

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Usama El Shamy P.E. Southern Methodist University

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Anthony Tessari

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Victoria Bennett Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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John E Lawler Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Multi-Institutional Physical Modeling Learning Environment for Geotechnical Engineering EducationThis paper discusses the preparation and pre-evaluation for the development and implementationof an educational module that integrates remote major research facilities into undergraduateclasses. This effort is funded by the NSF TUES (Transforming Undergraduate Education inScience, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program. The developed educationalmodule integrates state-of-the-art experimental tools (geotechnical centrifuge) into theundergraduate education curriculum via web-based technologies that enable real-time videomonitoring, tele-control, and shared execution of experiments. The students’ activities within thedeveloped module are centered around building a model consisting of a shallow foundation on asand deposit utilizing the NEES centrifuge facility. The project provides students at threedifferent engineering universities with new educational tools for improving their understandingof various geotechnical engineering concepts. The main goals of this project are: to develop andpilot test educational models utilizing the centrifuge facility at one of these universities; toprovide visual observation of the response of soil and soil-foundation systems; and to promotestudent-based use of instrumentation, interpretation of acquired data, and utilization of the NEES3D data viewer in order to analyze the measured response. Students were able to access,interpret, evaluate, and exchange relevant technical information via the Internet thereby bringingmajor experimentation into geotechnical engineering classes.In order to ensure successful development and implementation of the multi-institute educationalmodel, a preliminary implementation was conducted in the fall of 2011 at two of the threeuniversities. Students in one university involved in this trial were undergraduate researchstudents, while those participating at the second one did so as part of a Soil Mechanics andFoundations class. The close interaction with undergraduate research students helped inidentifying potential problems at early stages and allowed for timely corrections as the seconduniversity’s class progressed. This paper presents the results and lessons learned through earlyimplementation. It focuses on explaining centrifuge technology, the tools used to build themodel, testing logistics, and methods adopted to resolve obstacles encountered during executionof the module. The student survey indicates that the developed module successfully addresses animportant educational gap - students’ lack of understanding of the strong relationship betweensoil laboratory testing, system design, and field performance. The survey also highlighted thefact that students did appreciate the practical nature of the project. The educational module wasrevised and successfully implemented in the spring of 2012 at the three universities.

Abdoun, T., & El Shamy, U., & Tessari, A., & Bennett, V., & Lawler, J. E. (2013, June), Multi-Institutional Physical Modeling Learning Environment for Geotechnical Engineering Education Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22303

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