The effectiveness of project-based learning in structural engineering
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The dominant pedagogy for engineering educations still remains chalk and talk despite the large body of education research that demonstrates its ineffectiveness. Traditional approaches to structural engineering education place a heavy emphasis on lecture-based delivery of the theories of structural analysis and the behaviour of common constructions materials. Design projects are given varying emphasis at different institutions, but are frequently left to the final year of the course. Assessment weighting often heavily favours examinations over project work. In recent years, the engineering profession and the bodies responsible for accrediting engineering programs have called for change in assessment and teaching practices.This study proposed that the use of design projects in structural engineering is an effective method of learning that models industrial practice. Projects enable students to understand the synthesis of structural analysis, material behaviour and availability, constructability and economic reality that occurs in the professional practice of structural engineering. To examine effectiveness of project-based learning in structural engineering a case study was undertaken in a third year undergraduate course of a civil engineering program in South Australia.This thesis first provides some background to structural engineering and current practice in structural engineering education. Project-based learning as applied to engineering is also examined. The case study design and data collection are then discussed. The study was developed around a conceptual framework for educational evaluation that differentiates between the intended, implemented, perceived and achieved curriculum. The intended curriculum, defined as the original vision underlying a curriculum, was developed through a literature review that considered the requirements of industry and engineering accreditation bodies. The degree to which the intended curriculum was successfully implemented in the course was evaluated through video-tapes of lessons, journal records and interviews. The actual learning experiences as perceived or experienced by the students, was evaluated through student journals, interviews and two questionnaires, one of which was also administered to a senior structural engineering industry group to enable a comparison between the student and industry groups perceptions of the importance of certain skills in the engineering profession. The achieved curriculum, defined as the resulting learning outcomes of the students, was also examined. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the findings of the study as well as their significance and limitations and then considers the possible extensions of project-based learning to other areas of engineering and some of the issues that will need to be addressed for this to occur.
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