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Using Computer Modeling To Increase Student Comprehension Of Foundation Behavior And Capacity

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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

Integrating Computer-based Technology in the Civil Engineering Classroom

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1316.1 - 14.1316.18



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Paper Authors


Harry Cooke Rochester Institute of Technology

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Harry Cooke is an associate professor in the Civil Engineering Technology program at Rochester Institute of Technology where he teaches courses in geotechnical engineering, construction materials, pavements, and mechanics of materials. His research interests include geotechnical engineering, civil engineering materials, and engineering education.

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



Computer modeling in engineering and technology is not only a powerful analytical tool for design, it also has significant potential as an educational tool to help students better visualize and understand the behavior of different elements in engineering systems. Some prior studies have been performed by others where computer simulations were used in an attempt to increase student comprehension of certain concepts in engineering courses. Improvements in learning were observed in some of these investigations, but overall the reported impact and effectiveness of this approach appears to be mixed. Few prior studies have investigated the effect of computer modeling on student comprehension of the behavior and static load capacity of spread footing and pile foundations, which are commonly used in civil engineering to support structures on soil.

The purpose of the study presented in this paper is to evaluate the impact of computer simulations on reinforcing and improving undergraduate students’ computational abilities and understanding for spread footing and pile design. The investigation is motivated by the observation that although undergraduate students in civil engineering learn the theories and computational approaches for evaluating the load capacity of these foundation types, they often do not fully appreciate how the foundation interacts with the soil and how load-carrying capacity is developed from that interaction. As a result, they often struggle with calculating the loads that can be supported by spread footings and piles, particularly for non-uniform soil conditions existing in layered soil profiles. In the current study, undergraduate Civil Engineering Technology students in a foundation design course at Rochester Institute of Technology performed analyses of spread footing and pile load capacity using the computer modeling software FLAC, in addition to performing traditional manual calculations based on theory, as part of their homework. FLAC uses a finite difference approach to solve modeling problems. The effectiveness of the FLAC simulations for enhancing and strengthening the students’ computational skills and understanding for the load capacity and behavior of these foundations was evaluated by comparing the examination performance of students who used the software with the performance of those from the prior academic year who did not use it. Statistical analysis of the data indicate some improvement in the ability of undergraduate students to manually compute the load-carrying capacity of spread footings and piles in a layered soil profile when they used FLAC modeling in addition to traditional manual computations. The group who used FLAC also gained an appreciation of the importance of the depth factor in the load capacity calculations for footings. In general, students indicated the software helped reinforce their understanding of spread footing and pile foundations. Student feedback also confirmed the importance of providing adequate background on how the software operates. The results of this study show that computer simulations using advanced modeling techniques can be successfully implemented in undergraduate engineering or engineering technology courses to reinforce and improve student comprehension and their manual computational abilities for design of engineering system components, such as foundations supporting structures.

Cooke, H. (2009, June), Using Computer Modeling To Increase Student Comprehension Of Foundation Behavior And Capacity Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4630

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