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An evaluation of the learning of structural engineering concepts during the first two years of a project-based engineering degree

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In the modern working environment it is essential for a structural engineer to have an understanding of abstract concepts in structural behaviour and an ability to use them qualitatively. This paper presents the findings of a study on how effectively students acquire such conceptual understanding within a new project/design focused degree course. The new degree programme is described. The first-year students experience a mixture of learning opportunities, including model building/testing, laboratories, workshops/tutorials, and lectures. In the second year there are two design exercises but no formal structural theory course. Specific concepts-based learning material was introduced into the first-year course at mid-semester and the effectiveness of this examined by tests and interviews. The performance of the first-year students is compared to that of the second-year students. The findings show that there is good student engagement and satisfaction with the course and that basic skills are successfully being acquired throughout both years. However, the study highlights areas where concepts are not being adequately developed in the first year and subsequently show little enhancement in the second year.

Keywords: Conceptual learning; Engineering design; Engineering education; Project-based learning; Qualitative assessment; Structural analysis

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Civil and Chemical Engineering, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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