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Using Themes and Pop Culture References to Make Introductory Civil Engineering Courses More Engaging

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Innovation and Fun in the Civil Engineering Classroom

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Anthony Battistini Angelo State University

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Dr. Anthony Battistini is an Assistant Professor in the David L. Hirschfeld Department of Engineering at Angelo State University. He received his BSCE (2007) degree from Lehigh University and an MS (2009) and PhD (2014) degree from The University of Texas at Austin. His expertise is in structural design, with an emphasis in steel bridge structures and connections. Prior to his current institution, Dr. Battistini also held assistant professor positions at Washington State University (2013-2014) and George Mason University (2014-2017). Throughout his career, his primary responsibility as a faculty member has been teaching students, for which he aspires to provide them with a quality and enjoyable experience.

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With the widespread availability of online streaming services, students can easily binge-watch shows or videos for hours. Yet, the same students seem to struggle to maintain their attention inside engineering classrooms. It is proposed that employing the use of themes and stories within the classroom makes lessons more interesting, thereby capturing the attention of the students so they can also learn the important engineering concepts accompanying the theme. Moreover, students will actually be excited to come to the class to find out what happens next, much like wanting to know what will happen in the next episode of a TV show.

The following paper will provide specific examples of themes and pop culture references used in basic civil engineering courses such as Introduction to Engineering, Statics, Mechanics of Materials, and Structural Analysis. Some themes might be specific to one particular topic (like a pirate theme used to go on an adventure for Hooke’s Law), while other themes can be implemented across various civil engineering disciplines (like a super hero theme). Like any worthwhile show, the use of physical models is emphasized, and the inclusion of other props and costumes is encouraged. The author will present ideas on how to implement the themes, drawing on past experiences that either worked well or failed to engage.

Assessment data from students will also be presented, including quantitative data supporting that more students demonstrated an ability to solve problems involving key concepts. Qualitative data from student surveys will further confirm that “the different themes and costumes [were] something to look forward to when coming to class” and “the enthusiasm… is contagious and inspires learning.”

Battistini, A. (2019, June), Using Themes and Pop Culture References to Make Introductory Civil Engineering Courses More Engaging Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33521

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