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Teaching Historical Perspective Using A Term Project On An Influential Structural Engineer

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Innovation in the Civil Engineering Classroom

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1140.1 - 14.1140.23



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Paper Authors


Matthew Roberts University of Wisconsin, Platteville

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MATTHEW ROBERTS is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Dr. Roberts earned his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Brigham Young University in 1993 then spent four years in the U.S. Air Force as a civil engineering officer. He received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 2002 and has been teaching structural engineering topics at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville since then.

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

Teaching Historical Perspective using a Term Project on an Influential Structural Engineer

Abstract Details are given on a class project that requires students to prepare a written report and oral presentation on an influential structural engineer. The project includes an extensive peer assessment process completed by the students. The project helps to fulfill the “Con- temporary Issues and Historical Perspectives” outcome of the newest version of the Body of Knowledge. The project also seeks to improve student communication skills, thus helping to fulfill the “Communication” outcome. Assessment was conducted to deter- mine the impact of the project in fulfilling these outcomes. Results of the assessment in- dicate that the project has a significant effect in developing historical perspective by the students. However, assessment results for the communication outcome indicate the project has minimal impact in improving communication skills.

Introduction Developing a basic understanding of the history of civil engineering is important for un- dergraduate students. As noted by Petroski, “Engineering history is useful, if not essen- tial, to understanding the nature of engineering.”(1) Because of the importance of engi- neering history for civil engineering students, the newest version of the Body of Know- ledge (BOK) includes an outcome on “contemporary issues and historical perspectives.” To meet this outcome at the undergraduate level students must be able to “explain the influence of historical … issues on the identification, formulation, and solution of engi- neering problems.”(2) This paper describes a group term project in which students re- search and present information about an influential structural engineer. Completion of the project requires the students to explain how historical issues have shaped the civil en- gineering profession. The learning objectives of the project are: 1. To expose students to a significant structural engineer and help them understand the accomplishments of the engineer and how those accomplishments affected the profession. 2. Improve the students’ oral and written communication skills. This learning ob- jective also explicitly helps to fulfill the “communication” outcome of the BOK. The term project is assigned in a junior-level structural analysis class. In order to imple- ment the project, two lecture periods were lost for student presentations. The project has been assigned each semester since Fall 2005 with many changes and improvements made over the years culminating in the project instructions provided in Appendix A. This term project was originally adapted from a paper by Thurston.(3) Enhancements made on Thurston’s original work will be highlighted in this paper as well as ways in which shortcomings addressed by Thurston have been addressed.

Completing the Project The term project starts on the first day of class when students are given detailed instruc- tions on the project and information about the assigning of groups. Groups are assigned

Roberts, M. (2009, June), Teaching Historical Perspective Using A Term Project On An Influential Structural Engineer Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5335

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