Student Mastery of Engineering with Design Review

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Civil and Mechanical Engineering

Publication Date


Publication Title

2018 ASEE Gulf-Southwest Section Annual Conference

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Traditional structural engineering pedagogy has consisted of students preparing for class by reading a textbook, followed by a professor giving a lecture, followed by students doing individual homework. Students received feedback in terms of a grade from the professor, and, ideally, the student filed the graded work and possibly reviewed it again before an exam. Following the exam, the professor moved to the next topic and essentially ended any further contact time with the material, resulting in students quickly dumping a good percentage of what was learned. To make matters worse, most faculty would agree that undergraduate students often skip the reading prior to class, and studies have shown that almost half of all students do not pay attention to material presented during a lecture. Thus, it is critical for engineering educators to improve the stagnant method of traditional teaching and learning. Small mistakes in the engineering profession can lead to death or millions of dollars in repair.

For the fall 2018 semester, in the Design of Steel and Wood Structures at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Civil Engineering students participated in a cooperative learning technique aimed at improving student learning. These same students tried a different version of this technique in Structural Analysis the prior semester.[1] Prior to submitting individual homework to the instructor for grade, students paired up with a peer within their class hour and checked each other’s work using an instructor provided “Design Review Sheet.” When a student found a mistake, or disagreed with the methodology used by their Design Review partner, the student annotated this on their sheet. The expectation was that when disagreements were discovered between students, they would discuss with each other where the error or misunderstanding existed and subsequently corrected the error prior to submission for grade. This not only required students to explain the work they completed, but it also provided additional contact time with the material.

With respect to Engineering Teaching and Learning, Design Review provides the essential cooperative learning characteristic of positive interdependence because individual student learning increases as review partners improved in their Design Review. As a student incentive to complete a thorough review, the quality of review counted for 10% of each assignment. Efforts this iteration were in response to some of the student suggestions following a previous iteration.[1] This iteration, in lieu of students turning in their work in pairs to receive one grade, each student would turn in their individual work and Design Review sheet. This was done to hold all students accountable for the work they completed. In addition, the instructor provided Design Review sheet was modified for clarity and the requirement to write a memorandum summarizing the results of each Design Review was eliminated. This cooperative learning technique was used on six of seven homework assignments during the term and on seven of nine homework assignments in their prerequisite course. Student feedback was collected from both Likert Scale questions and open-ended questions. This paper will make the case that this pedagogy benefits Engineering Teaching and Learning by: (1) getting engineering students in the practice of what engineers in practice already do (check each other’s work), (2) increasing student learning of course learning objectives through repetition and through observing how others solve problems and present their work, and (3) improving the ability of future engineers to communicate their work clearly and effectively.

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