The third year of a civil engineering degree is often a transition stage for students. They must increasingly apply the knowledge learnt throughout their earlier education in application areas. This includes not only the earlier years of the course but also a range of generic skills that have already been acquired either at University or elsewhere. For most degree programs, this corresponds to an increasing emphasis on application subjects including design and construction subjects. The majority of students find great difficulty in modifying their thought processes from just knowing formulae to a more lateral form of thinking.
Integrative models allow this application to be applied in a controlled environment which is as close to actual practice as can be achieved in the classroom. The approach has seen students actively involved in not only using the technical skills that they have developed but also in applying the more important generic skills that they will need for a an active involvement in the community.
The changes in the civil engineering industry have forced engineering education, particularly civil engineering, to require a graduate to be reasonably competent in:
Models have been used for teaching purposes in engineering courses, possibly since the time of Julius Caesar. A number of papers have described approaches utilising models in teaching in the traditional areas of civil engineering in the past. [Heywood, 1992; Mahendran et al, 1993; Liston and Heldt, 1994] In order to learn engineering principles, and particularly construction principles, deep learning is experienced by doing rather than listening. Reading books, listening to lectures or watching videos, no matter how inspiring, does not have the learning value or impact that is found in a 'hands-on' learning experience. The construction group in the school has considered a range of options in which models could be utilised.
For a model to be not only an active but also an interactive learning tool, students must
There is no doubt that the bright young people who are attracted to civil engineering can be taught to be very effective leaders of the future. It is our responsibility as Academics to show both by example and course content that people can be lead if they have objectives that create excitement in the follower. There is a strong leaning in overseas course structures to increase the humanities content of engineering courses at the expense of technical content. This is not necessary. Course curriculum can be adjusted to allow skills in the social science areas to be developed. The future lies in engineers being able to both consider and acknowledge the impact of public perception, the labour force and the environment in the design and construction of engineering projects. The skill base must include not only technical ability but an understanding of human relationships and comprehension of leadership skills and a vision for the future.
The normal academic learning environment is one in which theories, facts and models are presented to students. Students must gain an understanding of this knowledge and the assessment process usually requires that students demonstrate that such knowledge has been assimilated. In this learning environment, theories and models are normally developed from first principles, so that students have a thorough understanding of the assumptions and functions of the models and theories. In engineering courses there is a strong emphasis on the need to comply with logic, mathematical rules and conventions. Students are encouraged to formulate problems so that only a limited and well-defined set of parameters need be considered. This leads to students developing the false impression that once they have learnt a model or theory, all they need to be given is the starting parameters, and the model will always predict the outcome. Where more complex systems are modelled, the system is often subdivided into various sub elements that are assumed to act independently, thus facilitating analysis. Under this regime it is normal for the model to predict a unique outcome for any given starting point. Many students come to expect this format for both learning and the functioning of the system being modelled.
As facilitators in management we have grappled with the problems of adapting the classroom into a 'real world' situation. The major impacts of teaching larger class sizes, the preparedness of students to study at this level and a lower Tertiary Entrance Rank [TER] than has previously been experienced have necessitated a change in the teaching techniques. Often the concepts in construction and management are rather abstract to students who have had engineering science force fed to them for the last two to three years. The use of videos, games, site visits, etc. have helped but there is still a major difficulty in bringing these concepts to life and making them meaningful through the lecture method. The other problem is what areas to teach and how to integrate previous subject matter into construction problems that are faced in by the industry.
Engineering education should be innovative (creative?) and allow those individuals who are perhaps 'individualists' to be identified. The student who is the self starter, who is self motivated, who can work independently, and who has the ability to undertake self learning is the student who will be the project manager of the future. How do we teach this type of student?
The best approach in developing a range of management and social awareness skills in a student is to develop courses that are defined in current education terminology as 'more liberal'. Courses that develop a student's understanding of ideas and thought processes, give some insight into the various cultural differences that a student will encounter in dealing with people and learning to communicate effectively are advantageous in providing the knowledge base required.
There is no intent that students who specialise in management should not be as well grounded in the fundamentals of technology, science and engineering as any other graduate. Rather, they should be more adept in these areas. However, they will need to be ideas people, leaning towards new technologies and new approaches, looking towards the cutting edge of the profession. Occasionally these people will become side tracked with modern tools and techniques but this doesn't matter.
Developing this type of student should not be institutionalised, it as not something for which a curriculum can be developed, but as facilitators and educators we must ensure that the student with this type of outlook is not stifled in their development. The Civil Engineering Department at QUT takes pride in the fact that the management stream within the course has wide acceptance within industry and is producing graduands that are acceptable for immediate employment in a wide range of applications including the construction areas of the profession [Boag, 1991].
The approach taken in constructing the course curricula is that a graduate should be able to not only undertake design applications in the range of subject areas taught, but have the basic skills to be able to apply the concepts to a wide range of problems. The approach taken by the school can best be illustrated by reference to the model in Figure 1. It is recognised that is an ideal. The reality is that all that can be achieved is to provide the student with a set of principles that during a professional career can be built upon to provide, in the long term, Engineers that the community will look to with respect.
The major factor faced was to decide who was in control of the teaching process. Lecturing and force feeding is safe! The students only have to take copious notes and then regurgitate the information back in an exam situation. Our belief was that the student must set the pace and agenda of the learning process. Our responsibility is to facilitate this learning experience.
Figure 1: Engineering Training Model
The approaches can be summarised as shown in Figure 1. As facilitators we should be concerned with educational innovation and creativity, particularly if there is a way in which abstract academic knowledge can be translated into practical applications. Two major methods have developed over the past decade. The first was pioneered by the Harvard Business School as case studies and has been further refined in the adaptation of case studies into Problem Based Studies [Russell & McCullough, Hadgraft, Liston et al]. The other concept developed in industrial and organisational psychology and is called the experiential model [Kolb et al]. The approach within the school has been to coalesce these two approaches into an Interactive Model approach.
|Achieved||Chalk and talk||Experiential|
|Current||Creating awareness||Skill building|
|Emerging||Performance orientation||Learning to learn orientation|
Figure 3: The pedagogy of the approach
The approach was to allow the students to discuss and determine a possible solution, test the solution by building the model, continually observe and explain as the model developed and then spend time in discussing the possible alternative solutions.
As facilitators we should be concerned with educational innovation and creativity, particularly if there is a way in which abstract academic knowledge can be translated into practical applications. The learning models that are being developed are, therefore:
For a model to be not only an active but an interactive learning tool, students must
The major factor faced was to decide who was in control of the teaching process. Lecturing and force feeding is safe! Under this scenario, the students only have to take copious notes and then regurgitate the information back in an exam situation.
'Chalk and Talk' does not fill the student with the desire to learn let alone attend the class. The belief was that the student must set the pace and agenda of the learning process. The responsibility of the lecturer is to facilitate this learning experience. Students become comfortable with the artificial learning environment that provides an information overload with no application. They do not believe that it is appropriate to apply the knowledge that they have assimilated in previous subjects or education to the current subject. They are very good at compartmentalising each subject area and only learning sufficient to pass an examination.
Students must therefore learn to think practically and laterally in order to solve a typical engineering problem. Given an end point and a limited knowledge of the starting point, students must learn to run simulation models of the operation in their mind. They must learn to incorporate risks and contingencies into these models in order to anticipate likely outcomes. Having considered a range of possibilities, students must then select the most appropriate solution based on their simulations.
As facilitators in construction we have grappled with the problems of adapting the classroom into a 'real world' situation. The major impacts of teaching larger class sizes, the preparedness of students to study at this level and a lowering of the entrance level of students than has previously been experienced has necessitated a change in teaching techniques. Often the concepts in construction management are rather abstract to students who have had engineering science force fed to them for the last two to three years. The use of videos, games, site visits, etc. has helped but there is still a major difficulty in bringing these concepts to life and making them meaningful through the lecture method.
Students must therefore learn to think practically and laterally in order to solve a typical construction problem. Given an end point and a limited knowledge of the starting point, students must learn to run simulation models of the operation in their mind. They must learn to incorporate risks and contingencies into these models in order to anticipate likely outcomes. Having considered a range of possibilities, students must then select the most appropriate solution based on their simulations.
Taking earthmoving as an example, previously presentation of the construction aspects of earthmoving consisted of three elements:
It was evident that many students were not able to competently develop solutions to earthmoving problems within the limited time available when the subject of earthmoving was presented using the above approach. Their previous learning experiences had conditioned many of them to expect information to be presented in a fairly fixed format, and that this information would be sufficient to solve the problems presented to them. In addition, many experienced difficulties in developing appropriate simulation models in their mind, particularly where different items of earthmoving plant were required to interact. For example, some students considered that if the cut site for a scraper operation was 500 metres long, then the push dozer would push the scraper for this distance. This problem arose regardless of the fact that during discussion the normal length of a push load had been resolved. Similarly, some found it difficult to balance the push dozers with the scraper fleet, since both carry out different operations simultaneously, yet they must interact. It was therefore evident that a modification to the teaching approach was required.
For students to apply their knowledge to an earthmoving problem they must draw on knowledge learned in previous subjects, and synthesise this with the issues relevant to the problem. It becomes a major change in outlook that has many students going through fairly traumatic learning changes in order to understand the subject matter. In many cases the final outcome is well defined [we wish to move 'X' million cubic meters of earth from point A and deposit it in a known and controlled state at point B]. The starting point is less well defined [we are not sure of the exact state or extent of material at point A, and weather conditions are likely to vary throughout the conduct of the project, etc.]. The link between the start and end point is even less well defined. A range of machinery may be selected, and operated in a range of ways. The 'right' answer is normally the one associated with the lowest cost. With so many variables and unknowns, this answer may be difficult to identify. Students who have been 'hand' fed to this point in their careers find great difficulty in adapting to this type of problem. Students must learn to think practically and laterally in order to solve a typical earthmoving problem. Given an end point and a limited knowledge of the starting point, students must learn to run simulation models of the earthmoving operation in their mind. They must learn to incorporate risks and contingencies into these models in order to anticipate likely outcomes. Having considered a range of possibilities students must then select the most appropriate solution based on their simulations.
The sandpit is developed with a range of material types that allows the simulation of material movement from loose material to rippable material to large rocks. Students are required to choose an equipment spread for the problem that is outlined [normally moving material from a borrow pit]. They are required to physically move the material using the models supplied.
The selection of the material in the sandpit has allowed students to understand the following principles; 'Loadability', 'Swell', 'Rolling Resistance', 'Push Loading', 'Cycle time', 'Production rate', and 'Machine Selection'. A range of practical tips can also be covered during the simulation - don't push earth further than necessary, plan ahead, pusher contact needs to be smooth, etc.
Possibly the greatest benefit that the 'sandpit' has produced is the interaction between facilitators and student. The use of models and the ability to 'play' with them has seen the development of a focus for interaction between the lecturer and class that has allowed a wide range of subject matter associated with the problem of earthmoving to be raised. The exciting thing is that the problems are normally raised by the students not the facilitators. The approach has stimulated the thought process of the student. The learning therefore becomes deep rather than superficial.
The 'sandpit' has allowed physical simulations at both the macro and micro levels. Macro in that the student can obtain a 'bird's eye' view of the problem and see the whole fleet in action, micro in the selection of a particular machine for the actual conditions encountered. Changes in topography, simulation of weather conditions, latent conditions, etc, can be discussed allowing the students to visualise different conditions that could be encountered on a site. When 'site visits' occur, then the students are better prepared to both understand the problems that they encounter and also to ask the 'right' questions when they come across a problem in the field.
The change in the attitude of the students has undergone subtle changes in the subject area consolidating changes and ideas that have been developing for a number of years. Some changes have been more dramatic. The students have shown a willingness to be in class. They come to class ready to discuss problems or concepts that they have seen during the periods between lectures. They will discuss the constructability of designs they are working on in other subjects. The interest into research in the area has grown considerably. Teaching staff are arriving in the class room keyed as to what subject will be raised since there is no assurance that the nominated subject will be pursued.
What has caused the changes? Scale models that are interactive have the potential to greatly assist the learning experience for the students but they must be correctly incorporated into the lecture framework. The technicality of concrete construction is another area that needed an innovative approach. The model developed in this case was considered in the light of the way in which in would be integrated into the class activities. This model is a self standing form and is a mix between a mecanno set and lego. The model in it's knocked down state has all the items that a formwork project would have [soldiers, walers, tie rods, form sheeting, spacer bars and formwork support] and is all contained within a carrying case. The lid of the carrying case is the nib of the foundation that the formwork if built from. The model was designed to be as a case study mid way through the subject matter with time allowed at the end to summarise the points. The model allows a number of principles involved in concrete construction and site work in general to be introduced. The model integrates the principles and allows a greater discussion of the practical aspects to be discussed.
Figure 5: The formwork model in action
Figure 6: Class interaction with the formwork model
Steel erection also gave major difficulties in students understanding the underlying principles. The solution was a large meccano set being developed.
One cannot help agreeing with the sentiment of Samuel Florman that 'We live in a technological age, and if our society is to flourish, many of our leaders should be engineers and many of our engineers leaders'. Bennett summarises the general feeling of the industry -'some gifted and highly motivated persons succeed [in making the transition to management of large enterprises] but for every one of these [engineers] there are a dozen more trapped in their specialisation, frustrated that their advice is not accepted, and complaining bitterly that in their field of work important decisions are controlled by the dreaded 'bean counters'.
Engineering educators must accept the challenge and set subject and course objectives such that curriculum and facilitators combine to ensure that graduates are given every opportunity to achieve Florman's dream and not be stuck in Bennett's mire.
Engineering employers have always tried to determine if a prospective employee has wisdom, judgement, knowledge, ethics, enthusiasm and an inquiring mind (Wilkinson, 1993) but more and more are relying on psychological testing such as Meyer-Briggs and Team Management in an attempt to determine if the prospective has an acceptable range of generic skills that fit the company profile.
The development of the models has not only considered the technical skills required, but has considered the generic skills required by a graduand. The content of each model has been analysed to determine the generic skills that can be taught, and/or used and/or assessed. A detailed matrix is used so that each facilitator is aware of the transferable skill needed to be developed by the use of the model and can adjust the teaching methods as required. There is no doubt that the bright young people who are attracted to civil engineering can be taught to be very effective leaders of the future. The future lies in engineers being able to both consider and acknowledge the impact of public perception, the labour force and the environment in the design and construction of engineering projects. The skill base must include not only technical ability but an understanding of human relationships and comprehension of leadership skills and a vision for the future.
The models have allowed physical simulations at both the macro and micro levels. Macro in that the student can obtain a 'bird's eye' view of the problem and see the total problem, micro in the selection of a particular machine or item for the actual conditions encountered. Changes in topography, simulation of weather conditions, lay-down areas, crane access, latent conditions, etc., can be discussed allowing the students to visualise different conditions that could be encountered on a site. When 'site visits' occur, then the students are better prepared to both understand the problems that they encounter and also to ask the 'right' questions when they come across a problem in the field.
The student reaction can be summed up in some of the comments that have been received.
'I now understand the logic behind earthwork calculations.'With the apparent success of the models in outlining the basics of construction to undergraduates, the concept has been modified and adapted to showing students in socio-disadvantaged area high schools some of the ways in which engineering is taught at a university.
'At last I understand how the machines are matched.'
'Can you have models for all the other subjects in this lecture series.'
'Why didn't you do this for us last year, we would have understood the problem better if you had.'
'Ability to simulate real world problems'
'Self learning at own pace'
'This was an active learning experience. I not only learnt about formwork but some things about my mates that were interesting'
'I felt that I had control of my learning'
'I went away thinking about the problem'
'Hopefully I will become better at thinking out problems.'
The approach will be continued. The model fleet will be upgraded to increase the pool of machines available for selection. The composition of the 'pit' will be looked at to ensure that as many ground conditions as possible can be encountered given the size of the 'sandpit' available. The formwork model will be refined to include other aspects as required. The steelwork model will be modified to allow site lay-down to be more adequately discussed. Other areas of site construction considered to allow models to be developed.
Eck, R.W.  Developing a Civil Engineer for the 21st Century. Jrnl Prof Issues in Engrr Vol 116/3 July 1990.
Hadgraft, R.  Problem based learning, making it work. 4th Annual Conference AAEE, December 1992 PP 134-139.
Heywood, R.J.  Reflective Teaching - Prestressed Concrete, Hat Elastic and Balsa AAEE Conference, December 1992.
Kolb, D., Rubin, I., McIntyre, J.  Organizational Psychology. Prentice Hall 1979, New Jersey.
Liston, J.W.  The Ideal Graduate, 6th Annual Convention and Conference, Australasian Association for Engineering Education, 11-14th December, 1994.
Liston, J.W., Moffat, C., Nave, R.  Problem Based Learning within the Construction Stream of a Civil Engineering Course PP 132-144, Exploring tertiary Teaching Volume 2, QUT 1993.
Liston, J.W., Heldt, T.  Back to Kindergarten Inspiring Integration, AAEE 6th Annual Conference, December 1994.
Mahendran, M., Weeks, P., Bruce, C.  Model Projects - Part of Civil Engineering Curriculum AAEE Conference Brisbane December 1993.
Russell, J.S. and McCullough, R.G.  Civil Engineering Education: Case Study Approach. Jrnl Prof Issues in Engrr Vol 116/3 July 1990.
|Author: John W. Liston, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane|
Phone (07) 3864 2243 Fax (07) 3864 1515 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Liston, J. W. (2001). The pedagogy of interactive models within an engineering course. In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 428-440. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/aset-herdsa2000/procs/liston.html