A course on sustainable materials use in civil engineering: Syllabus, delivery and student feedback

Sanjaya Senadheera

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Civil engineering construction projects use by far the largest quantity of natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, consumed in the world. Civil engineers wield enormous influence over the utilization and conservation of these valuable resources. Therefore, civil engineering educators have a responsibility to prepare tomorrow's engineers on a path towards sustainable practices in their material selection decisions. This paper presents a comprehensive overview of the syllabus, delivery and student feedback from a new course after its first semester of teaching. The course is titled "Material Systems for Sustainable Design", and it was developed as a senior-level undergraduate elective. Advanced course content was added to also create a new graduate course on the same topic. The overarching course objective is to provide students with the knowledge on sustainability and create an awareness of the tools that are needed to apply sustainable material selection practices in their future design work. The teaching pedagogy was designed for problembased learning (PBL) combined with limited conventional classroom instruction at the beginning of each new topic followed by focused reading assignments involving the latest technical literature on the subject. The course was delivered in a highly collaborative learning environment. The instructor first conducted a review of conventional materials, basic material properties, specifications and the design process. Sustainability concepts were introduced through focused reading assignments and included sustainable design practice, sustainability metrics, life-cycle analysis as well as energy, water and other natural resource use implications in civil engineering projects. The students also gain an awareness of several sustainability-related calculators. This is followed by an extensive discussion on sustainability issues applicable to civil engineering materials. Each student was then asked to select a construction material from a list prepared for the class for which he/she developed a portfolio throughout the semester. The students applied sustainability concepts to their material of choice and calculate relevant sustainability metrics for the material process. The portfolio included a process chart for a specified application for each material, a material flow chart that identified the inflow of raw materials, energy and water to the production process as well as output, emissions and waste and sustainability metrics for each materialapplication combination. The final segment of the portfolio was a design project for the assigned material-application combination which allowed each student to apply the concepts they learned in the course to a design exercise.

Original languageEnglish
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2009
Event2009 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: Jun 14 2009Jun 17 2009


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