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Sensors and Structures: Outcomes from a Project-based Multi-disciplinary Graduate Course

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

General Topics in Graduate Education

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1155.1 - 25.1155.14



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Paper Authors

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Elizabeth Basha University of the Pacific

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Luke S. Lee University of the Pacific

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Sensors and Structures: Outcomes from a Project-Based MultiDisciplinary Graduate CourseThe goal of this paper is to assess the effectiveness of a project-based, multidisciplinary course ina small engineering program with BS and MS students. At engineering programs withoutdoctoral degrees, limited faculty resources and small student numbers present challenges inoffering graduate courses that provide hands-on learning experiences in multidisciplinaryenvironments - the same experiences often gained in graduate level research at larger researchintensive universities. Therefore, during the Spring semester of 2011, we offered amultidisciplinary course combining civil structural health monitoring (SHM) and sensornetworks.Recent research trends have tied these two topics together with an increase in the use of sensornetworks for SHM and an increase in monitoring structures in sensor networks. Combiningthese two classes offered a unique opportunity for senior undergraduate students and graduatestudents to engage in multidisciplinary learning, to design and implement complicated systemsspanning both fields, and to explore new research boundaries.The Sensor Networks for Infrastructure Systems course provided a combination of depth andbreadth to both undergraduates and graduates. The course consisted of two hours of lecture andthree hours of laboratory time each week with content divided into three topic areas eachincorporating a multi-week lab project. The final weeks of the course were devoted to large-scale final projects where student teams monitored actual structures on the university campus.The course was assessed in comparison to two other courses offered concurrently: a graduatecourse in networking for ECPE/CS students and a mixed course in water resource engineeringfor civil engineering students. Assessment consisted of entrance and exit surveys combiningLikert-scale questions, open-ended questions, and concepts maps. Additional assessment withinthe course included the submission of concept maps before and after each topic area.The assessment revealed key benefits and challenges for both faculty and students. All haddifficulties translating knowledge and terminology outside of their discipline. The faculty foundthat providing breadth to all students introduced challenges to maintaining course flow andinterest while providing sufficient depth to successfully complete projects. Team managementand dynamics differed greatly from traditional project classes due to specialized skillrequirements (no one student could completely implement any project), challenging the facultyto determine new models and the students to learn new skills. However, students appreciated theopportunity and uniformly identified multidisciplinary projects as interesting and useful.Overall, the course identified a need for increased multidisciplinary interactions in the graduatecurriculum and suggested models for how that might be achieved.

Basha, E., & Lee, L. S. (2012, June), Sensors and Structures: Outcomes from a Project-based Multi-disciplinary Graduate Course Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21912

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