In summary

  • First-year engineering students were tasked with using materials from home to build a 500mm span bridge, that could carry a minimum 1 kg load
  • They researched an existing bridge, observed its working principles then came up with their own design
  • Each student prepared a video presentation demonstrating the load test 

In response to the need to move teaching and learning online due to the Covid-19 situation, Swinburne Civil and Construction Engineering lecturer Dr Jessey Lee gave her first-year students a Lego Masters-inspired final assessment task.

The brief was to use materials from home to build a 500mm span bridge, that could carry a minimum 1 kg load.

“Mechanics of Structures is a first-year core engineering unit,” Dr Lee says. “When classes moved online, the weekly three-hour face-to-face lectures were replaced with asynchronous recordings including a one-hour live session to recap or ask questions.”

Swinburne’s Dr Jessey Lee transformed the Mechanics of Structures final assessment from a three-hour exam to a hands-on activity.

Tutors ran virtual lab sessions where they performed experiments, recording their measurements and data. Students had to extract the data and compare it with their own theoretical calculations to complete assessment tasks.

Traditionally there is also an invigilated final exam that is worth 50 per cent of the student’s assessment.

“As an alternative, for semester 1 2020, the approach taken was to have an authentic hands-on assessment with a DIY bridge project, worth 35 per cent, combined with a final quiz worth 15 per cent,” Dr Lee says.

Students first needed to research an existing bridge of their choice, observe the working principles of the bridge, then come up with their own design using materials of their choice from home. In addition, each student prepared a video presentation demonstrating the load test, and ways to improve their design.

“They had to build their bridge, submit a design report using principles learnt from the unit, then run a load test and reflections of the design on video,” says Dr Lee.

Here are some the results:

Nia Jones says: “Building my DIY bridge was definitely a worthwhile experience for me.  Having minimal constraints in the design, materials choice and the construction process let me have full control of what I wanted the bridge to achieve.  I am an independent learner and I like to figure things out by myself, so I really enjoyed this project.  Seeing how much weight the bridge could hold and analysing the end result in the report and video was interesting.  It highlighted weaknesses in my design and made me think of how to improve it.” 
Mitchell Guest says: "Having to construct the FBD, SFD and BMD all proved challenging but really reinforced what we’d been learning and hence allowed us to see applications in real-life situations. Overall I found the assignment as a whole enjoyable, beneficial and would recommend you to continue it in future semesters even if the circumstances are not necessarily housebound." 
Nigel Cooke says: “Having to research a “real life” bridge and think about how forces act on the various members was a good way to relate the theory to real life and get students thinking about the practical application of what is being taught. I now look at structures such as bridges with an engineering focus.” 
Alexandra Beukle says: “I thoroughly enjoyed this project as I felt it really reinforced the key aspects that we learnt throughout the semester and enabled me to creatively express what was learnt in a variety of ways, along with experimenting with different alternatives to achieve the goal. I think given the unforeseen circumstances surrounding the pandemic and the flexibility that was required to continue our learning online, this project was exceptional and critical in the development of my skills throughout this unit and I would highly recommend continuing this project for future students”
Max Blackwood says: "I found it a great opportunity to turn the method I had learnt into real skills, I enjoyed the freedom of the exercise and competing with a few of my friends to see who could hold the most weight." 

Dr Lee says: “I really like the blended approach and I think students love it too. I believe hands-on work is always great for authentic learning and I’m definitely going to keep the DIY project. It adds a bit of the element of fun as well, but we may retain some part of the exam in future.”