The Source Civil Engineering Magazine Engagement and commitment are hallmarks of transportation engineering course at Oregon State University
Higher Learning

Engagement and commitment are hallmarks of transportation engineering course at Oregon State University

Edited by Margaret M. Mitchell

David S. Hurwitz, Ph.D., EIT, A.M.ASCE, a professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State University, believes in taking a hands-on approach, from his determination to providing an engaging online experience to his commitment to imparting the knowledge and experience that will allow his students to thrive as practicing transportation engineering professionals.

Hurwitz is the Eric H.I. and Janice Hoffman Faculty Scholar and the director of the Driving and Bicycling Simulator Laboratory in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering.

He has been an instructor at the undergraduate and graduate levels for 12 years, and he has received many regional and national teaching awards, including the Faculty Teaching Excellence Award 2019-20, bestowed by OSU’s College of Engineering. 

I believe that teaching is a performance art. To promote effective information transfer and deep understanding of class content, we have to deliver an engaging ‘performance’ in the classroom.

Briefly describe CE 595, Traffic Operations and Design. 
It is a graduate-level transportation engineering course offered in the fall quarter. CE 595 provides a robust introduction to concepts, theory, and tools widely used by transportation engineering professionals who work in the traffic operations domain. In addition to the weekly lectures, students participate in hands-on laboratories that include collecting a variety of traffic data, using calculations and software to analyze field data, and conducting a full traffic impact study, which is documented in a technical report and presented to the class at the end of the quarter. 

CE 595 is the first of three required courses in the transportation engineering curriculum at OSU. The other two are CE 594, Transportation Facilities Design and CE 591, Transportation Systems Analysis, Planning, and Policy. Together, these three classes provide a breadth of knowledge in the broad areas of operations, design, and planning, which are foundational in the transportation domain. 

You employ the ASCE ExCEEd model in your classes. What is it and how do you integrate it into this course?
The ExCEEd model proposes the teacher as a professional role model in the classroom. The model incorporates six tenants of good teaching, including: 

  • Structured organization
  • Engaging presentation
  • Enthusiasm
  • Positive rapport with students
  • Frequent assessment of student learning
  • Appropriate use of technology

I have implemented this teaching model in a variety of ways that maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses as an instructor. 

Elements of the model that work well for me include course- and module-level learning objectives, detailed documentation of my lesson plans in a framework referred to as board notes, and the development of preplanned, nontrivial questions. In addition, I use Microsoft PowerPoint to show only pictures or large tables/complex figures, a whiteboard during class to display the irreducible minimum amount of documentation students need to understand the material presented, and learning activities as often as is practically possible. 

What makes this course (or the way you teach it) innovative or unique? 
One aspect of the class that students regularly comment on is how well the theory from our lectures is aligned with the applied laboratory activities. Students have said that these hands-on labs provide an opportunity to improve the depth of their conceptual understanding.

Another common student observation is that they love that the data we collect and analyze during the first half of the class are used in the traffic impact study. They have commented that seeing how the process works from end to end gives them greater confidence in their abilities and understanding of the material. 

This past fall was the first time it was taught solely online. Tell us about your experience so far.
I have had immense support at all levels from OSU. That support included clear and timely policies and the acquisition of desperately needed hardware such as a Wacom tablet and Jabra microphone as well as software such as Canvas and Kaltura Capture. I also received training on these new technologies and was given templates and tips for implementing this technology in our learning management system. The university also supported me in my desire to attend professional trainings both at OSU and from professional societies.

I have been teaching college classes for 12 years, and I can say unequivocally that I have not worked this hard on constructing and delivering classes since my first few years as an untenured assistant professor. At that time, I was building class material from scratch one lecture at a time and never more than a day ahead of my students. 

My challenges during the pandemic revolved around a series of critical path choices: synchronous or asynchronous delivery, how much HTML formatting would I adopt, which capabilities of my learning management system should I pursue and to what degree, and whom should I go to for advice and guidance. These were among the many issues I grappled with. A year ago, I hadn’t spent more than five minutes considering any of these issues, and after the university announced we would be remote during the spring 2020 quarter, I had about 10 days to pivot to a new form of instruction. 

A governing principle of my teaching, again informed by my experiences with ExCEEd, is the continuous pursuit of positive, incremental improvement.

What have you had to change most about your teaching style moving to remote delivery? 
I believe that teaching is a performance art. To effectively promote effective information transfer and deep understanding of class content, we have to deliver an engaging ‘performance’ in the classroom. Exemplary teachers intentionally consider their movement around the classroom (for example, not staying in one place near the board) as well as their nonverbal communication, articulation, volume and pitch, and humor.

A big part of my classroom delivery includes interacting with my students through preplanned questions. My choice to deliver the class asynchronously required that I adopt other tools and techniques to benefit the student learning experience. 

Although I have had a number of challenges, I’ve experienced some success as well. First, delivery of dozens of short five- to 10-minute video clips with high-resolution audio for my narration and a large-screen tablet to produce the notes I would typically document on a whiteboard. Second, adoption of discussion boards for my weekly modules during which I respond to every primary post from every student every week, resulting in hundreds of posts from me throughout the quarter asking and answering student questions. Third, development of remote laboratories. This was possible only because student members of my research laboratory collected dozens of videos in the field last summer. They created transcription and calculation templates for the incoming students to take advantage of. 

You believe that students should be prepared to have their ideas challenged. Are students ever daunted by having their ideas challenged? If so, how you do handle that?
Transportation engineering problems are often complex and multifaceted. Regularly, these problems are of great concern to myriad stakeholders, whose desires are often in direct conflict. The transportation professionals of the future will need to be able to articulate their thinking in clear and concise terms to move their preferred solutions toward implementation. 

I work very hard to promote a welcoming classroom environment in which a variety of ideas and ways of being are welcomed and encouraged. I set expectations for professionalism and collegiality at the outset of the course, and I try to model those standards through my behaviors in and out of the classroom. I am also intentional about developing a rapport with every student. In these ways, I try to make all my students comfortable in order to actively participate in the class. I have very rarely had students express anything but enjoyment of our classroom dynamic.

I work very hard to promote a welcoming classroom environment in which a variety of ideas and ways of being are welcomed and encouraged.

Students are graded on their contributions to discussions. Explain how that works. 
Discussion posts are evaluated with a rubric that is presented at the beginning of the class. That rubric includes four dimensions: quality of the original post, quality of response posts, quantity of postings, and demonstrated understanding of the learning materials. Each dimension is scored as unsatisfactory, satisfactory, and exemplary. 

If students do not participate in the optional office hours offered through Zoom each week, I will have very little direct interaction with them. This structure provides an opportunity for me to ask and answer questions from every student in the class and for them to have similar experiences with each other.

Is there anything you would like to say to instructors who may be struggling with the challenges of asynchronous content delivery?
A governing principle of my teaching, again informed by my experiences with ExCEEd, is the continuous pursuit of positive, incremental improvement. Our courses, lectures, and individual assignments do not need to be perfect the first time we deliver them, but it is critical that we reflect on every element of our teaching, identify those elements that are working well and propagate those forward, while simultaneously working to improve elements that are not working as well.

So, pick one item from your delivery last quarter or semester that did not work as well as it could have, and be intentional about improving that during your next class offering. For example, if you looked at my spring 2020 class offerings and compared them to my winter ‘21 offerings, three iterations later, you would see some elements that worked very well initially are still there (discussion boards) and other elements that are not even recognizable (hyperlinked buttons and graphics on the home­page of the class).

Do you have an innovative program for reaching and teaching today’s technology-savvy civil engineering students? If so, email cemag@asce.org using the subject line “Higher Learning.” 

This article first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Civil Engineering.

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