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Scaffolding and Assessing Sustainable Design Skills in a Civil Engineering Capstone Design Course

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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

Beyond the Capstone: Integrating Authentic Experiences that Promote Learning and Excitement

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Elise Barrella P.E. Wake Forest University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Elise Barrella is the founder and CEO of DfX Consulting LLC which offers engineering education and design research, planning and consulting services. She is a registered Professional Engineer and was a Founding Faculty member of the Department of Engineering at Wake Forest University. She is passionate about curriculum development, scholarship and student mentoring on transportation systems, sustainability, and engineering design. Dr. Barrella completed her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Georgia Tech where she conducted research in transportation and sustainability as part of the Infrastructure Research Group (IRG). In addition to the Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, Dr. Barrella holds a Master of City and Regional Planning (Transportation) from Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University. Dr. Barrella has investigated best practices in engineering education since 2003 (at Bucknell University) and began collaborating on sustainable engineering design research while at Georgia Tech. Prior to joining the WFU faculty, she led the junior capstone design sequence at James Madison University, was the inaugural director of the NAE Grand Challenges Program at JMU, and developed first-year coursework and interdisciplinary electives.

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Mary Katherine Watson The Citadel Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Mary Katherine Watson is currently an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Citadel. Prior to joining the faculty at The Citadel, Dr. Watson earned her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology. She also has BS and MS degrees in Biosystems Engineering from Clemson University. Dr. Watson’s research interests are in the areas of engineering education and biological waste treatment.

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Justyn Daniel Girdner James Madison University


Robin Dawn Anderson James Madison University

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Robin D. Anderson serves as the Academic Unit Head for the Department of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University. She holds a doctorate in Assessment and Measurement. She previously served as the Associate Director of the Center for Assessment and Research Studies at JMU. Her areas of research include assessment practice and engineering education research.

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As educators seek to incorporate sustainability into engineering courses, appropriate assessment tools are needed to capture the impacts on student development. In particular, methods for assessing student sustainable design skills are lacking in the literature. As a result, we have been engaged in a multi-stage process to develop and validate a sustainable design rubric to both scaffold student application of sustainable design principles, as well as provide a tool to capture students’ sustainable design skills. Adapting Benson’s Model for construct validation, the first (substantive) stage included producing a set of cross-disciplinary sustainable design principles through review of literature, published rating systems, and reflections from professionals. Currently, we are engaged in the structural and external stages to complete validation of the Sustainable Design Rubric. In particular, we are piloting application of the rubric as a formative design tool in capstone design courses at various institutions to compare intercorrelations between rubric items and expected performance differences between groups.

This paper reports the outcomes of using the Sustainable Design Rubric as a formative assessment in a civil engineering capstone design course at a regional, teaching-focused institution in the Southeast. The assignment was given to 35 students across 7 teams. First, students individually scored their projects for a subset of the criteria - teams divided up criteria amongst their members so that at least two people would score each criterion. Next, students discussed their individual responses with team members to arrive at a set of consensus scores, with written justifications, for all 14 criteria. We reviewed students’ responses for appropriateness of scores and quality written justifications as part of the structural and external phases of SD Rubric validation. We found few intercorrelations between criteria within categories (environmental, social, economic), which would traditionally raise questions about structural validity. However, that finding supports that the 14 criteria are distinct and that the Rubric does not contain unnecessary criteria, which further supports substantive validity. We found correlations between criteria from the economic category and each the environmental and social categories. This provides early evidence of external validity, as we expected these correlations across categories since economic criteria specifically ask students to reflect on the economic impacts of addressing environmental and social criteria. Overall, the Rubric seemed to help students grasp what sustainable design “is” or “should look like.”

Barrella, E., & Watson, M. K., & Girdner, J. D., & Anderson, R. D. (2020, June), Scaffolding and Assessing Sustainable Design Skills in a Civil Engineering Capstone Design Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35175

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