12 techniques of the holidays - Day 8

Day 10: Muntasir Billah's Learning through failure 

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Name: Dr. Muntasir Billah

Area/Discipline: Civil and Structural Engineering

Twitter handle: @MuntasirBillah1

The Technique

Failure is every structural engineer's biggest nightmare. Learning through failure can prevent reoccurrence, and so we need to celebrate failures as much as we celebrate successes.

I use a web based online tool, The Bridge Designer in my course to help my students “build a better (future) bridge” by identifying and analyzing failure through experience! This provides my students with a virtual makerspace-style prototyping/testing environment.

For an engineer, the cost of production is always married to the design of the bridge (i.e., I can make a bridge strong, but can I also make it cost effective?). As a result of the activity/technique outlined here, I’ve been able to have my learners go deeper into this process so that learner groups can build confidently to innovate in this way --

through the process of ‘fail, fail and fail again’.

At the end of this process, students are asked to identify ways to refine their designs by identifying quality practices learned in bridgdesigner.org. The discussions that occur as a result of this learning helps us to further identify practices and solidify concepts that cross groups.

We end up with a set of final designs that make the following clear to all learners:

  • A list of failures
  • A list of solutions and, most importantly,
  • A set of designs for bridges that are strong and cost effective!

How I use It

An important first step is to install and get ready to use the application. The instructions are posted to D2L a week before their first use in order to have the students ready for the work we will do together in class the next week.*

  • As I begin the first lecture, which will incorporate the application navigation, I demonstrate the software briefly. I want to confirm functions of the application that we will use to help them learn (inputting parameters, extracting outputs, etc.).
  • I can then begin the lecture to introduce concepts (tension force, compression force, etc.) and their application to types of bridges (arch, truss, cable, etc).
  • Specific criteria is now given to students on what “success” looks like for a bridge design.
  • Students are then asked to create different types of bridges. Learners will perform load tests to test their own bridge designs. Students are given some freedom to modify/refine the design and configuration of bridges, and this means that some may have “blunders” in their designs.**

They must experiment enough to resolve problems encountered and must also determine if the problem is related to the simulated experience or if it would also occur in the real world.

* By this time, I have students already set into groups of 3-4. When they start using this application, they are ready to help each other use the app well.

** Student groups can choose the type of bridge they want to build, and the group’s members will help each other to refine their design.

Feedback from Learners

"I really like bridges in general. This class is perfect about understanding bridges. I also really like the fact that we did failure analysis using the software.”

“Overall in this program, I felt as if this course was going to be the most useful going forward in my career. The approach of using the software to do bridge design through failure was very useful.”

Supporting goal 9

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation

This technique can support change or development in this area by developing design concepts that make bridges more resistant to collapse. It prepares our future engineers to recognize failures for the purpose of learning and innovating. Students understand how to apply engineering judgment to build resilient infrastructure.

A short task to challenge you!

In the spirit of the season, let’s try to build something... that we know will stand;-)


One Final Task

Is this something you can use in your classroom? How might you utilize it? If you share your results somewhere on social media, please let us know by using the hashtag #12tech21LUDay10.

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12 Techniques of the Holidays 2021 by Teaching Commons@LU is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.