The CASCE project arose out of a need to develop and share new, inspiring ways of teaching the fundamentals of structural and civil engineering, and to help students of all majors appreciate the role of engineers in society, and understand how engineering can be a creative discipline. The teaching materials included here use case studies of specific engineers and their structures to highlight the personal, social and scientific context behind great works of engineering. By learning about the context in which engineering is practiced and encountering the human side of engineering structures, students are better able to see how engineers are problem-solvers exercising creativity within the bounds of real-world engineering constraints.
A key focus of this project has been on infusing the course materials with active learning methodologies. A very large body of evidence points to the benefits of active learning methodologies (such as discussions, hands-on activities, polling questions that encourage peer teaching, etc.) towards increasing student retention, improving grades, and lowering rates of failure.
We assessed students’ self-reported gains in understanding the course content, in their skills, as well as in their attitudes towards engineering, through an adopted version of the Student Assessment of Their Learning Gains (SALG) survey. The following graphs represent data from Princeton University students who chose to anonymously participate in the survey, and total 207 participants over 4 years of the course Structures in the Urban Environment. The course enrols students of all majors, not just engineering majors, and can be taken as a science or a literature and the arts general education requirement.
With regards to attitudes towards engineering, over 90% of students surveyed reported moderate, good, or great gains in their enthusiasm for the subject, in possessing an aesthetic and technical appreciation for structures, and over 85% reported moderate, good, or great gains in their interest in discussing the subject with friends or family.
With regard to the their understanding of the course’s content, over 95% of students reported moderate, good, or great gains in 1) relating the forms of structures they encounter in daily life to their function and to the forces in the structure, 2) evaluating and contextualizing significant works of civil engineering based on their social, scientific and symbolic importance, 3) comparing, contrasting, and critiquing structures as works of structural art, and 4) tracing the development and innovation of new materials, and describing how these materials give rise to new forms.
Below, you can find students self-assessed gains in learning due to the course components that involved active learning. Here, 93% of students reported moderate, good, or great gains due to the demonstrations conducted in lectures.
Additionally, in 2015 we developed and conducted a Pre and Post survey for Introduction to Civil Engineering, taught at Virginia Tech University. In this case the students were all engineering majors (52 students participated in the pre-survey, and 49 in the post-survey). These students entered the course with strong positive attitudes towards engineering, which remained at similarly high levels as they completed the course.
The students also reported improvements with regard to their understanding of course concepts.
And with regard to their skills, the students reported gains in many key areas.
For more details on the accumulated research findings of this project, please refer to the publications tab.