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Restructuring A Design Focused Introductory Transportation Engineering Course: An Exploratory Study Using The Threshold Concept Framework

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Design Projects across the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1034.1 - 15.1034.22

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Paper Authors


Dan Cernusca Missouri University of Science and Technology

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Dr. Dan Cernusca is Instructional Design Specialist in the Department of Global Learning at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. He received his Ph.D. degree in Information Science and Learning Technologies in 2007 from University of Missouri – Columbia. He also holds a BS and a Ph.D. from the University of Sibiu, Romania with a specialization in manufacturing technologies and respectively cutting-tools design. His research interests include Design-Based Research in technology-enabled learning contexts, technology-mediated problem solving, assessment in technology rich learning environments, applications of dynamic modeling for learning of complex topics, and the impact of epistemic beliefs on learning with technology.

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Ghulam Bham Missouri University of Science and Technology

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Dr. Ghulam Bham is an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at the Missouri University of Science & Technology. He received his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2003. His research interests include modeling and simulation of driver behavior in transportation systems, traffic operations and control, and traffic safety.

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

Restructuring a Design Focused Introductory Transportation Engineering Course: An Exploratory Study Using the Threshold Concept Framework


Design is an integral part of engineering courses. Addressing design problems is a challenging task in instruction because of the openness and complexity of these problems. This paper presents an approach in addressing these challenges for an introductory transportation- engineering course, an important part of which is highway design. To address the challenges associated with highway design, a framework proposed by the threshold concepts model was used to identify a candidate-concept for the instructional redesign process. Two major characteristics of threshold concepts, integrativity and transformativity were used to identify horizontal alignment candidate-concept for the highway design process.

Using concept maps generated as guides through the integrativity of learning associated with the horizontal alignment, several adjustments to the structure of lecture materials and project tasks were made. In addition, reflective assessment items were administered after each redesigned instructional task and at the end of the course. Students’ answers to these reflective assessments helped identifying trends associated with the transformativity of horizontal alignment in the context of highway design. The analysis of students’ reflective assessment indicated that horizontal alignment has the potential to be transformative, and therefore, can be a candidate- concept for the activities associated with scaffolding of highway design process.


Streamlining the instructional activities was and will be an ongoing struggle both for instructors, at the classroom level, and administrators, at the institutional level. As each field of knowledge grows, students struggle with their transition from novice to expert in their academic growth. Addressing these struggles is even more stringent for design activities that are typically part of the engineering curriculum. Addressing design problems is and it will be a challenging task in instruction because of the openness and complexity of these problems1.

When scaffolding design activities in their courses instructors typically face challenges in balancing the content, as proposed by various textbooks they use, and the reality of their classroom instruction. That is, quite often instructors find that they have to develop additional instructional steps to address the gap between the existent and the expected levels of prior knowledge and skills their students need to successfully engage in the design activities. The instructor also needs to find ways to include these additional steps within the limited time allocated for that instructional process.

Attempts to address these challenges include the development and implementation of technology-based modules. In transportation engineering, for example, such technology-based modules provided, on one hand, more expertise-based activities for students2 and, on the other hand, moved some of the delivery of the content outside the classroom3.

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: © 2010 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