Zekkos developed a web-based platform for students to prepare class projects online. During the winter semester he invited experts to provide feedback on the projects. He sent the invitation to the ASCE Geoenvironmental Engineering committee and to contacts from his previous career with consultants. He also posted the invitation to his website www.geoengineer.org. Within two weeks of sharing the invitation, each project had been visited by 800 or more people and various engineers had written feedback.
“The comments our project received were from a highly knowledgeable professional who is familiar with our topic, so they were extremely helpful. The professional pointed out some important errors in our writing and helped increase our fundamental understanding of the topic,” said student Elizabeth Grobbel.
Professor Zekkos paired geotechnical students with environmental students so they could work in pairs to answer interdisciplinary questions about geoenvironmental remediation. The students shared their work on www.geoengineer.org. Once their projects were reviewed and commented on, the students had to address the comments.
“Knowing that your project would be published online and read by some experts in the field provided extra motivation to turn in a quality report,” said student Jonathan Hubler.
Sharing the projects online not only provided extra motivation and helpful comments, it also opened the door to professional opportunities. Zekkos received a message from an engineering firm interested in working with him to facilitate future hiring opportunities with the students. The attention is exciting, but the biggest excitement comes from seeing the students respond well to the new challenge.
“The motivation for this initiative is the research findings that students are more motivated, find a class more appealing, and learn better when class projects have an impact beyond the classroom and are viewed by more individuals than the instructor. I feel like I am opening my classroom to the world and so all that is exciting for me and the students” said Zekkos.
“This is the first time in my undergraduate career that my class work has had a broader impact in the civil engineering community…This external impact encouraged me to broaden my research base, seek more guidance in writing my project, and motivated me to produce a high-quality technical work,” Grobbel says.
Zekkos looks forward to teaching the course again using a new theme next winter.