This paper will cover the development and implementation of a final year Civil Engineering Capstone Project at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. The Capstone project is based on a Civil Engineering design office experience, and allows students to experience authentic involvement with a real-world, open-ended project. Students integrate their technical knowledge by working in teams to deliver an engineering design report and presentation that must achieve real, coordinated outcomes for a client.
The Capstone design project is selected each year with the help of local engineering practitioners with the goal of allowing students to work on a challenging civil engineering project which is local (i.e. students can visit the site and observe the design problems which need to be solved), currently in progress (i.e. final details of the selected solution are not yet constructed), and requires substantial problem-solving input from each specialisation within Civil Engineering (e.g. Construction, Environmental, Geotechnical, Transportation, Structural, and Water). Students manage their own design teams of 7 to 10 individuals (depending on course enrolment numbers), taking advantage of available resources to develop unique solutions to the design project (a single design project is assigned to the course, and each group develops their own solution). A short series of lectures and a site visit are included in the first weeks of the one-semester course, but student learning primarily takes place during Design Office sessions, where students work in teams on their design with the support of specialist academic staff and consulting engineers.
The course has overcome a number of obstacles inherent to the implementation of an open-ended, team-based design project for a large class (e.g. student team dynamics, peer assessment, etc.), although the course structure continues to be developed and improved. Several students have commented that this course was the best group exercise in their university experience, and many noted that it was the most valuable paper they had done in their degree. Similarly, the real-world practitioners and clients in attendance at the final student presentations have commented on how impressed they were with the depth of understanding the students had of the project. Feedback from the engineering consulting industry has indicated that following the introduction of this course, they have observed a higher level of understanding in new graduates of the role of a civil engineering practitioner than in years past.
In this paper, the principles of “Capstone”, the course organisation, timeline, and assessment structure, and the evolution of the course from its initial pilot run with 10 students in 2017 to full-scale implementations with approximately 200 students in 2018 and 240 students in 2019 will be evaluated. The model of staff involvement, industry participation, and the level of success that has been achieved in getting buy-in from staff will be discussed. The course successes, lessons learned, and path forward will be discussed in the context of student learning styles and experiential learning, with the intent that the knowledge gained in this course will prove valuable to the development of similar Capstone courses.
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