Collaborative Research: Improving Undergraduate Education in Civil & Building Engineering through Student-centric Cyber-Physical Systems and Real-world Problems Grant uri icon


  • This project aims to serve the national interest in high quality undergraduate engineering education. It will do so by integrating smartphone-based digital visualization technology into Civil and Building Engineering curricula. The project predicts that this addition will improve student engagement in the engineering classroom. Education research shows that active learning increases student motivation and learning . However, active learning experiences are challenging to incorporate into civil and building engineering, because these fields address problems that are large-scale or not available locally. Additionally, students often view civil and building engineering negatively as “low-tech,” making it more challenging to interest potential majors. This project proposes a novel approach to increase enrollment, retention, and success in civil and building engineering degree programs: the use of low-cost technologies to enhance the student-learning experience. Specifically, real-world problems in civil and building engineering will be brought into undergraduate classrooms through interactive digital visualizations of civil and building engineering systems. Students will be able to control the systems through affordable sensing technologies, such as smartphones, cameras, and Internet of Things sensors. The resulting educational tools, which the project calls student-centric cyber-physical systems, are expected to promote active learning as students interact with these systems in real-time. These tools will also introduce students to innovative sensors for smart infrastructure, which may stimulate additional interest and increase student recruitment and retention. Through design-based implementation research, this exploratory project will develop student-centric cyber-physical systems for building science and structural analysis, and address the following questions: 1) How do students’ interest, motivation, and engagement vary? 2) How does student-centric cyber-physical systems affect student ability to sense and predict solutions to problems? 3) How does exposure to sensing technology and data science aspects of student-centric cyber-physical systems affect students’ perceptions of civil and building engineering, particularly the low/high tech nature of the field? The developed student-centric cyber-physical systems tools will be tested and assessed at two large public research universities. The project plans to generate theory to guide the transition for next-generation student-centric cyber-physical systems tools across multiple STEM fields. Lessons learned in the context of civil and building engineering can be shared with other fields, potentially leading to a broad national impact. The student-centric cyber-physical systems tools will also be used in outreach efforts at K-12 public schools. The NSF IUSE: EHR Program supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

date/time interval

  • 2020 - 2023