Enhancing Transportation Engineering Education with Computer Simulation
There is relatively little emphasis on experiential learning as real-world experience in transport studies. It is difficult to apply to classroom learning because the risks and costs of experimenting with transport policies and concepts in the real world are prohibitively high. To counter this, simulation has proved to be capable of compressing time and space with great cost saving. At the University of Hartford, micro-simulation tools have been integrated into transportation engineering undergraduate courses for the first time to see how the traditional traffic engineering learning experience can be enhanced. A simulation learning environment was created to help students learn the principles of simulation and then develop an intuitive understanding of traffic flow theory and advanced control strategies. Students have also worked with two traffic simulation tools, CORSIM and VISSIM, and used them to understand the interactive dynamics among driver behaviors, vehicle characteristics and advanced traffic control management strategies in urban and freeway transport networks. They could also test hypotheses about the effects of various driver behavior, land use, and network decisions on the resulting traffic levels and make decisions on improvements for the future network. As part of the learning experience offered by this course, students applied the skills and knowledge gained from the classroom to a real-life service-learning project. The project was to take the learned traffic model theories and use simulations to evaluate traffic operations along an important urban corridor in Hartford, Connecticut, in terms of the existing, future, and improved future scenarios. The study results were presented and communicated to the local public. It is believed that the technology-enhanced learning activities of the simulation can reduce the emphasis on instructor-led “chalk and talk” by enabling students to explore complex traffic modeling processes in computerized learning environments. The new learning experience also enables students to think critically about transport problems and solutions.
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