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Using Failure Case Studies In Civil Engineering Courses

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Instructional Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1250.1 - 8.1250.8



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

Session 2215

Using Failure Case Studies in Civil Engineering Courses

Norbert J. Delatte

Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The University of Alabama at Birmingham


The study of engineering failures can offer students valuable insights into associated technical, ethical, and professional issues. Lessons learned from failures have substantially affected civil engineering practice. For the student, study of these cases can help place design and analysis procedures into historical context and reinforce the necessity of lifelong learning. Three approaches for bringing forensics and failure case studies into the civil engineering curriculum are available. These are stand-alone forensic engineering or failure case study courses, capstone design projects, and integration of case studies into the curriculum. Since it is not practical to add another required course to the crowded civil engineering curriculum, the latter approach will be more practical for most undergraduate programs. Some cases have been developed and used in courses at the United States Military Academy (USMA) and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), as well as at other institutions. Currently an NSF-funded research project is underway at UAB to develop and disseminate case study materials. Under this project, a web site has been developed to provide case study materials for faculty. The web site links courses, course topics, and case studies illustrating those course topics through hypertext. Summarized case studies are provided, with references, along with links to selected fully developed case studies. An online bibliography provides sources of case study materials including books, technical papers and magazine articles, videos, web sites, prepared PowerPoint presentations, and television programs.


Engineers design. Engineering design is, at its core, an attempt to use science, mathematics, and other principles to prevent failures. Most of the time the attempt is successful – but the times it is not successful can provide useful lessons for students and practitioners. The lessons learned from failures have often led directly to changes to engineering codes and procedures. Students are more likely to appreciate advances in design and analytical procedures if they are placed in a historical context.

There are three ways to introduce failure analysis and failure case studies into civil engineering education. A small number of colleges and universities, probably only a few percent, offer courses in forensic engineering or failure case studies. Often, these are at institutions such as the University of Texas, Mississippi State University, or the University of Colorado at Denver that

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education”

Delatte, N. (2003, June), Using Failure Case Studies In Civil Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12310

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: © 2003 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