University of Vermont


Engineering Education - Systems Approach, Inquiry-Based Learning and Service Learning

I have been actively participating in NSF-sponsored Department Level Reform (DLR) grant. The main themes of the reform were to: (1) create opportunities for students to adopt a systems approach i.e. to become capable of considering long-term environmental, societal, political, regulatory and economic issues while identifying, defining and devising sustainable solutions to real-world, open-ended engineering problems; (2) take an inquiry-based, hands-on approach to actively engage students in the learning process; and (3) facilitate development of transferable skills such as teamwork, leadership, technical writing and public speaking to communicate to technical as well as non-technical audience. The major platform for implementing these goals was a service-learning component, in which students work with Vermont towns and non-profits on civil and environmental engineering related real-world projects in at least one course in each year of their curriculum.

So far, I have implemented the following in my undergraduate soils courses: Four hands-on educational modules are introduced in undergraduate geotechnical engineering courses; introduction to geotechnical engineering (Geotechnical Principles CE180) and foundation engineering (Geotechnical Design CE281). These modules are designed to incorporate inquiry-based learning and expose students to a systems approach to engineering education. All modules are conducted within a group setting and require students to write technical papers in ASCE conference format or prepare a technical report and a presentation, with an additional underlying objective of the development of students’ interpersonal skills. Some statistical analysis and analytical and numerical modeling are required in some of the modules to expose students to information technology and understand the importance of coupling numerical and experimental methods.

1) Research Project 1: Atterberg limits using Casagrande and fall cone devices
2) Research Project 2: Physical, analytical and numerical modeling of steady-state seepage
3) Research Project 3: Validation of slope stability, bearing capacity and active and lateral earth pressure solutions
4) Service-learning projects


Assessment of student learning was conducted. These modules and associated assessment results have been published or in the process of publication in International Journal of Engineering Education, International Journal of Architectural Heritage Conservation, Analysis and Restoration, Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice and Advances in Engineering Education.

For more information on the NSF Department Level Reform - Systems Education, click on this link.

Last modified June 11 2010 05:26 PM

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