The aim of this workshop is helping fellows to:
- Formulate solutions to open-ended problems in structural safety
- Learn to work as a team
- Develop an understanding of the principle mechanisms through which structures carry load and transfer loads through elements in to the ground and how to assess their safety
- Consider the wider social and environmental aspects and identify risks associated with their schemes
- Demonstrate effective presentation skills
The case study problem simulates a situation where multi-disciplinary team work must be efficient to solve a real-world ill-conditioned problem. As part of the experience, fellows acknowledge the benefits of learning to work as a team. The format is that a brief is issued to the ESRs on Monday whereby three teams of ESRs (4 ESRs per team) compile their solutions during the week and present them to their peers and consortium experts on Friday in a “question and answers” type, interruptible presentation format. Prof OBrien was available on the Monday afternoon to introduce the case study and answer any queries via video call. Time was allocated during the week (Wednesday afternoon and Thursday from 11 to 5 pm) to facilitate team work towards the solution. Prior to the training week, ESRs had been introduced to google collaborative tools, so they could build this presentation working together and simultaneously using google slides during the week.
They finally presented their solutions on Friday afternoon. Presentations were in an interruptible forum with participation of all team members, and the presentation material had to contain sufficient information to fully justify their decisions. Overly complex visual aids (animation, etc.) were to be avoided – this was an interactive discussion/critique of what fellows are proposing and of the judges’ opinions of the merits and shortcomings of the proposed solutions. Each team had about 30 minutes each including questions by Professors OBrien and Brownjohn who acted as judges in an “X-factor” style. Finally, a team was appointed as winner, and Prof Brownjohn, who had been involved in the monitoring of the bridge subject of the case study, explained what really happened and the solution adopted in practise.
The teams were selected to include at least one fellow with specific knowledge on the problem in hand, to be sufficiently large to provide sufficient pool of knowledge, experience and views to promote the active participation of all team members, but small enough to prevent inhibition of active participation of everyone. They were also chosen to be as heterogeneous and diverse as possible to facilitate interaction, group learning, achievement, team role allocation and mutual beneficial across abilities. The composition of the three teams was as follows:
|Daniel Martinez Otero
||Alberto González Merino
Given the nature of the learning which is required in this workshop (application rather than acquisition), the problem is well-defined following the usual problem based learning definition. It is relatively open-ended and based on a realistic project to encourage diversification and contribute to a real-world feel. The brief on the case study specified that:
This is a major bridge in a bottleneck location that is scheduled to be replaced in 10 years’ time. It has deteriorated and the client is concerned about its safety in the interim period until it is replaced. Your brief is to advise the client on the following:
- Specify a series of tests to assist in establishing the safety of the bridge
- Recommend a programme of analyses/studies and
- Propose a system of sensors for ongoing monitoring.
- All of this should take account of the client’s ‘tight’ budgetary situation and keep costs at a sensible level.
Together with the brief, fellows were provided with links to a wealth of information containing reports, papers, drawings and photos published about the bridge.
While traditional teaching tell students what to learn, the principle behind the case study proposed here is to let students identify what to learn by introducing them a problem first, and then let them work towards the understanding of its resolution. Such an approach allows developing specialist knowledge and key transferable skills for work and social life, i.e., students are able to adapt more easily to changeable scenarios than with a traditional learning method where the learning material is explicitly provided to the student via lectures. Peer and deep learning is also promoted (knowledge is constructed by independent study and discussion with peers). It must be noted that is not only problem solving capacities that are enhanced, but also communication skills and interpersonal skills. This way, students get prepared for lifelong learning deemed to be essential in an era of continuous technological changes and access to practically unlimited sources of information. Even more, because the concepts are learnt by the student as a discovery, the retention rate will be significantly higher than when it is verbally transmitted by a lecturer.