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Using Positive Interdependence and Multi-Modal Assignments to Enhance Student Understanding of Civil Engineering Soft Skills

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Integration of the Humanities and Social Sciences into Civil Engineering

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1632.1 - 22.1632.19



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Paper Authors


Sean St.Clair Oregon Institute of Technology

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Sean St.Clair is an associate professor and department chair in the Civil Engineering Department at Oregon Institute of Technology where he teaches structural engineering courses and conducts research in engineering education. Dr. St.Clair is also a registered professional engineer in Oregon and consults in the areas of timber and light gauge steel design and construction.

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Charles E. Riley Oregon Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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David K. Thaemert P.E. Oregon Institute of Technology

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Roger Lindgren, P.E. Oregon Institute of Technology

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Using Positive Interdependence and Multi-Modal Assignments to Enhance Student Understanding of Civil Engineering Soft SkillsIn light of shrinking curricula, broadening of technical areas, and expansion of the civilengineering body of knowledge, it can be very difficult to find the necessary time andappropriate place to teach engineering soft skills such as business, leadership, public policy, andmanagement as specified by the ASCE program criteria. After a number of false-starts and failedapproaches, the faculty at a small teaching university developed an effective approach to bothteaching and assessing students’ knowledge of these topics. This approach involved formalcooperative learning incorporated into a multi-modal assignment that included library and first-person research, case study examination, and presentation development centered around eitherbusiness, leadership, public policy, or management. In the course of this assignment, studentsconducted one-on-one interviews with professionals, from both the private and public sector;researched case studies for both positive and negative examples; performed literature reviews onthe nature of these topics as they relate to civil engineering; prepared presentations on their topicto instruct fellow class members; and engaged with faculty members to ensure a proper level oftopic coverage prior to presenting their findings formally to other students and professors. All ofthese experiences facilitated the capture of multiple perspectives, which in turn broadenedstudents’ comprehension of the assigned topic. At the conclusion of these presentations, a multi-faceted assessment approach was taken that evaluated the groups’ final products as well eachstudent’s individual understanding of the topic. The students also completed self-assessmentssummarizing their role within the group and accounting for their time spent and tasks performed.The assessments indicated that cooperative learning, specifically the positive interdependenceresulting from a shared goal and well-defined roles, was an effective tool leading toward thedevelopment of a broad student understanding of multiple civil engineering soft skills; furtherrevealing that students went beyond merely explaining the basic concepts and ultimatelysynthesized material from multiple sources, shared it cooperatively and placed it in the context oftheir future careers.

St.Clair, S., & Riley, C. E., & Thaemert, D. K., & P.E., R. L. (2011, June), Using Positive Interdependence and Multi-Modal Assignments to Enhance Student Understanding of Civil Engineering Soft Skills Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18402

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