Using Positive Interdependence and Multi-Modal Assignments to Enhance Student Understanding of Civil Engineering Soft Skills

Sean St.Clair, C.J. Riley, D.K. Thaemert, Roger V.F. Lindgren

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In light of shrinking curricula, broadening of technical areas, and expansion of the civil engineering body of knowledge, it can be difficult to find the necessary time and appropriate place to teach engineering professional skills such as business, leadership, public policy, and management as specified by the ABET Program Criteria for Civil and Similarly Named Engineering Programs. After a number of false-starts and failed approaches, the faculty at a small teaching university developed an effective approach to both teaching and assessing students’ knowledge of these topics. This approach involved formal collaborative learning incorporated into a multi-modal assignment that included library and first-person research, case study examination, and presentation development centered around either business, leadership, public policy, or management. In the course of this assignment, students conducted one-on-one interviews with professionals, from both the private and public sectors; researched case studies for both positive and negative examples; performed literature reviews on the nature of these topics as they relate to civil engineering; prepared presentations on their topic to instruct fellow class members; and engaged with faculty members to ensure a proper level of topic coverage prior to presenting their findings formally to other students and professors. All of these experiences facilitated the capture of multiple perspectives, which in turn broadened students’ comprehension of the assigned topic. At the conclusion of these presentations, a multi-faceted assessment approach was taken that evaluated the groups’ final products as well each student’s individual understanding of the topic. The students also completed self-assessments summarizing their role within the group and accounting for their time spent and tasks performed. The assessments indicated that collaborative learning, specifically the positive interdependence resulting from a shared goal and well-defined roles, was an effective tool leading
toward the development of a broad student understanding of multiple civil engineering professional skills; further revealing that students went beyond merely explaining the basic concepts and ultimately synthesized material from multiple sources, shared it cooperatively and placed it in the context of their future careers.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2011
Event118th ASEE Annual Conference &. Exposition: Your Passport to Engineering Education - Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver, Canada
Duration: 26 Jun 201129 Jun 2011


Conference118th ASEE Annual Conference &. Exposition
Abbreviated titleASEE 2011
Internet address


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