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Education, training and learning in geo-sciences for civil engineering

I. Lungu, A. Stanciu, N. Boti & O. Donciu

Technical University “Gh. Asachi”, Iasi, Romania

ABSTRACT: The qualification level of a graduate in Civil Engineering is associated with vocational com-
petences which involve the application of knowledge in an extended area of professional activity. Geo-
sciences are the very core of effective interaction between constructions, community development and urban
planning. Modeling in Soil Mechanics and design in Foundation Engineering has reached the point of being
performed as a rigid mechanism of routine calculations and thus, judgment errors led to inappropriate solu-
tions for infrastructure works. Geology, Geotechnical and Foundation Engineering should work together in
both education and training of undergraduates in Civil Engineering in order to solve proper idealization of the
real site conditions when deciding design solutions.
The specific competences a student in Civil Engi-
The last two decades of economical and social de- neer is expected to develop are the followings:
velopments in Romania re-designed the educational  an ability to identify, formulate and solve com-
strategies at all levels, university included. mon civil engineering problems,
In 2005 a major change was made in the higher  an understanding of the elements of project and
education system by adopting a system essentially construction management of common civil engi-
based on three cycle degrees, bachelor, master and neering works;
doctorate. In Civil Engineering the 1st cycle with a  a recognition of the need for, and the ability to
duration of 4 years for bachelor-level studies, the 2nd engage in life-long learning,
cycle of 1.5 years for master-level studies and the 3rd  an ability to use techniques, skills and modern
cycle of 3 years to obtain the doctorate degree. engineering tools, including IT, necessary for en-
The 1st cycle – undergraduate level in Civil Engi- gineering practice,
neering at the Technical University “Gh. Asachi”  an understanding of professional and ethical re-
Iasi, Romania is organized in two stages with a total sponsibility of civil engineers.
of 240 ECTS: Geotechnical Engineering is a compulsory course
 the first two years with a curricula common for that is developed with a different content for each
all specializations consisting in general engineer- specialization, with a total number 56 contact hours
ing subjects; and represents the basic concepts and engineering
 the following two years with a curricula designed tools to solve common problems in this field. Cur-
for each specialization: Civil, Industrial and Agri- ricula consist also of a compulsory course in Foun-
cultural Constructions; Railways, Roads and dation Engineering with 70 contact hours. Elective
Bridges; Urban Development. courses in the field of Geotechnical Engineering are
The teaching is offered in both maternal language designed to provide an intermediate level of under-
and English for the specialization in Civil, Industrial standing and solving problems.
and Agricultural Constructions.
There are students that at the beginning of the 3rd
year of education decide for a part-time or full-time 2 GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEERING
employment; our faculty board designed a speciali- EDUCATION
zation based on evening courses with the same num-
ber of ECTS (240) and 5 years duration. Since the course Geotechnical Engineering is fol-
The 1st cycle is graduated based on a license ex- lowed by the course of Foundation Engineering, the
amination to obtain the bachelor degree that repre- first one is more theoretical oriented with laboratory
sents a certification to access the labour market and works focused on the basic properties of soils ob-
a break-point to enroll into the 2nd cycle. tained from laboratory tests on soil samples.
The applied knowledge in Geotechnical Engi- work quality of the companies performing both de-
neering is involved more in the project works as ap- sign and performance of infrastructure works.
plications in Foundation Engineering. Site visits are very important for the course of
Although the course is intended to offer the basic Geotechnical Engineering since infrastructure works
knowledge as concepts, models, theories and prac- are hidden for the public eye and the real dimensions
tice in the field of Geotechnics, its content is com- of the problem are better perceived than from draw-
prehensive in all aspects of soil behavior: ings only.
 Elements regarding the formation of rocks Since the 90’s teachers from the university have
 Composition and characterization of soils been actively involved in providing consultancy
 Hydro-geological conditions and elements of soil work on site constructions. Many comments have
hydraulics been generated over the benefit of such activity for
 Compressibility of soils the university itself. Nevertheless, the experience
 Stress state in soil masses such consultancy generated over the last 15 years for
 Settlement of constructions the teaching staff was displayed over the teaching
 Shear strength of soils approach and the enthusiasm of presenting case
 Man-made and natural slope stability studies where they have been actively and success-
 Active and passive earth pressure of soils fully involved. Also, site visits have been easily or-
 Calculus of the foundation soil ganized and field trips in remote locations of indus-
The course is delivered in the 3rd academic year trial works.
where students are almost in the middle of their uni- One of the great challenge in teaching Geotech-
versity studies and they expect to receive very struc- nical Engineering at present is to maintain confi-
tured information where their contribution is only to dence in predicting soil behavior when so much em-
memorize and adopt the technicalities of solving piricism is involved, connecting dangerously some
problems as for calculus oriented subjects. They are of the time the reality with some available theories.
used with the term “lecturing” as teaching so that The outcome may be that students can loose confi-
they expect to have solutions delivered as the course dence in the scientific aspect of Geotechnics and
object for any potential problem to come. consider that oversize in respect to dimensions can
The course in Geotechnical Engineering is more counteract the lack of the geotechnical investigation
difficult to cope with when trying to create a of the site.
flowchart of solving situations. The course is open- It is often recognized that mathematics is ruling
ing the arena of engineering judgment over choices the rigor in engineering and is blindly applied to
in infrastructure works that is challenging for stu- Geotechnics as well. As the rigor of observation of
dents but at the same time requires a solid reading physical and mechanical phenomena is not trusted to
and understanding beyond the limited amount of develop the required logic in solving a problem,
time the course itself is providing in the curricula. even general practitioners tend to consider this field
The change made in education as being nowadays of knowledge as governed by numbers, linking rou-
student centered is forcing the student to become the tine investigations with design codes.
active person he or she is not used to be and thus Many books have been published lately for the
there is a certain difficulty to enroll in learning this students and graduates as well in the field of Geo-
course. sciences (Geology Engineering, Geotechnical Engi-
It is also a dangerous path when opening discus- neering, Foundation Engineering and other field re-
sions over choices an engineer should consider be- lated subjects). The most searched for are the ones in
cause the limit between the technical benefit and the Foundation Engineering because they suppose to
cost efficiency is blurred at this stage (economy of present “recipes” to solve daily problems on the
construction is a course in the 4th academic year) and construction site. Books with examples to compute
money issue is strong for young people especially in particular values to predict soil behavior at some
countries where people still have to learn the solid stage of construction development are considered as
path of a competitive market. “laws” to follow.
Many of these students have had especially for The engineer graduating the Geotechnical Engi-
the summer time the experience of a part time job in neering course is more interested on “how to do”
the construction field and faced situations where the disregarding the “why’s” involved in the problem.
cost dictated over the technical solutions. They come Methods became more important than concepts be-
in class with this experience and participate to dis- cause of the pressure created by the deadline of the
cussions with the certitude that what they witnessed work and thus experience is only acquired in num-
is good since it is already applied and nothing wrong bers involved. It is considered best to repeat con-
happened. cepts from various perspectives and/or to link soil
In this respect, the local authorities in construc- mechanics concepts with those the students meet in
tion policy should become more responsible for the everyday life.
In Romania, developments and new strategies are fered the possibility for in-coming students to study
taking place in industry, constructions included, ag- subjects of Civil Engineering as in any other country
riculture, health, education, law and finance. Chang- in Europe.
es occur sometime in expected ways and education The European dimension of education in Civil
is trying to accommodate the rate of change in econ- Engineering has been enhanced by the beginning of
omy so that the graduates fit the labor market de- the Bologna process together with the initiation by
mands at present. professor Manoliu of the European Civil Engineer-
Geotechnical engineers are in great demand now- ing Education and Training program (EUCEET)
adays but few of the graduates are devoted interest where the Faculty of Civil Engineering from the
towards Geotechnical Engineering. Local companies Technical University “Gh. Asachi” of Iasi is one of
for site investigation, design and performance of in- the partners.
frastructure works are slowly developing since the It is still difficult to harmonize and therefore to
initial investment in logistic is difficult to cope with acknowledge diploma from different universities
and the public opinion is still not granting this field across Europe but there are institutions at work to
the importance it deserves to ensure the safety of facilitate the cross-border mobility of experienced
constructions. engineers.
As in any other field, the value of knowledge in One step further is created by multinational com-
Geotechnical Engineering should be determined by panies in the field of Geotechnical and Foundation
the quality assessment. When discussing on the topic Engineering that opened representative offices in
of what quality means, the arguments reveal that Romania, contracted infrastructure works and em-
there is a gap between the academic perception and ployed national labor force, engineers included to
the one of the practitioners and mostly between crea- manage field projects in various locations all over
tivity measured in depth or in width. One of the the country. Many of them have been delegated to
competences a graduate should possess according to manage projects over-seas and by this, their diploma
questionnaires addressed to employers is to take de- and experience have been acknowledged at the in-
cision in solving any situation at the site and thus to ternational level.
be creative. In order to reduce the gap in perceiving One of the benefits when working in such com-
the quality of knowledge the student/graduate has to panies is the experience of continuous learning as
be aware first of the harmony existing between rele- the first step of a lifelong learning process. The short
vant scientific and social issues at stake. term courses organized by the companies to train its
employees with the latest concepts, software or
equipments involved in their daily activities are ben-
3 EUROPEAN COOPERATION IN eficial for all the persons involved, teachers includ-
GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEERING ed, since interaction with practitioners are creating
EDUCATION for themselves some stage of lifelong learning pro-
cess and also to adapt courses for undergraduates to
Since the 90’s, the European mobility of both stu- a different perspective demanded by the labor mar-
dents and teaching staff increased in number but also ket.
in the multiple cooperation programs that have been
created to experience and overcome educational and
social differences between countries. 4 EXPECTATIONS AND TRENDS
The Tempus JEP 2776 initiated by the Technical
University of Civil Engineering from Bucharest, un- Computers opened the possibility to develop new
der the supervision of Professor Iacint Manoliu cre- didactical methods. Geotechnical knowledge can be
ated the first professional European cooperation in transferred to students via computers as it happens in
the field of Geotechnical Engineering. many other aspects of life. The question is to what
Seminars and training stages for the teaching staff extent the human factor is playing an important role?
created opportunities for professional development In Romania, ICT (Information and Communica-
for all persons involved and individual agreements tion Technology) is not uniformly involved in edu-
of future cooperation that reflected afterwards in cation. In universities computer is present and it be-
Erasmus/Socrates partnerships. came a routine equipment to access information but
Students had opportunities to develop their di- also to perform tasks during classes or home as-
ploma work in universities where Geotechnical En- signments.
gineering is high ranked among the core subjects in Geotechnical Engineering is still using ICT to
Civil Engineering, to broaden their horizon and have provide mainly learning material that is entirely the
the satisfaction of being adopted by another society. responsibility of the teacher. The teacher is becom-
All Romanian Faculties of Civil Engineering de- ing more a coach, to train the student in having the
veloped educational programs taught in foreign lan- basic knowledge on the subject of interest. Along
guages: English, French or German. They have of- with changes in teaching approach the evaluation
should change as well. This is also related to the REFERNCES
competences the education program has to provide
in a graduate of that particular course so the respon- Burland, J.B. 1986. Nash Lecture: The teaching of soil me-
sibility of the teacher lies actually in assessing in chanics – A personal view. 9th International Conference of
Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, vol.2, Tokyo
such a way that competences are confirmed. – proceedings
Although it seems difficult to implement Com- Brandl. H. 2000. Civil and Geotechnical engineering in society
puter Based Instruction (CBI) in Geotechnical Engi- – Ethical aspects and future prospects. In Iacint Manoliu,
neering, Professor Sharma proved in his paper IonAntonesc, Nicoleta Radulescu (ed.), Geotechnical Engi-
(Sharma, 2000) that it is possible and provided neering Education and Training, Proc. Of the First Int.
enough reasons to pursue this issue. Conf. on Geotechnical Engineering Education and Train-
ing, Sinaia, Romania, 12-14 June 2000, Rotter-
Research on education trends is clearly indicating dam:Balkema
that the development of education is orientated more Barends. F.B.J. 2000. The impact of knowledge management
and more on web-based delivery rather than CD and ICT. In Iacint Manoliu, IonAntonesc, Nicoleta
modules. Until this trend will be a must in education, Radulescu (ed.), Geotechnical Engineering Education and
traditional techniques will be slowly turned into Training, Proc. Of the First Int. Conf. on Geotechnical En-
gineering Education and Training, Sinaia, Romania, 12-14
more interactive tools, where motivated students can June 2000, Rotterdam:Balkema
find enough interest for learning and competing in Manoliu. I. 2000. Trends in engineering education worldwide
groups rather than try as individuals to learn the con- and their relevance for geotechnical engineering education.
tent of the subject involved. In Iacint Manoliu, IonAntonesc, Nicoleta Radulescu (ed.),
Geotechnical Engineering Education and Training, Proc. Of
the First Int. Conf. on Geotechnical Engineering Education
and Training, Sinaia, Romania, 12-14 June 2000, Rotter-
5 CONCLUSIONS dam:Balkema
Sharma. S. 2000. Developing computer based instruction for
Geotechnical Engineering is a very challenging pro- geotechnical engineering. In Iacint Manoliu, IonAntonesc,
fession due to the fact that there is no “100% safety” Nicoleta Radulescu (ed.), Geotechnical Engineering Educa-
and it always involves a calculated risk over the con- tion and Training, Proc. Of the First Int. Conf. on Geotech-
nical Engineering Education and Training, Sinaia, Roma-
struction works. The competences of a graduate re- nia, 12-14 June 2000, Rotterdam:Balkema
fer to understand not only the technicalities of the
profession but also economical and political rela-
tionships, to have social skills and to be fully aware
of the consequences his/her engineering decisions
may induce for environment.
The responsibility for the effectiveness of the
knowledge in this field is shared by the professor for
the teaching and assessing part, the university to
provide the logistic the course needs, the students for
the learning process, and by the stakeholders when
setting demands over the competences required for
the graduate.
The infrastructure for the teaching activities is set
on a development path regarding the laboratory
equipments and facilities, bibliography available in
libraries, computers to perform tutorials and access
Computer based instruction for the undergraduate
level should be an alternative to other teaching tech-
niques since there are still limitations apart from the
benefits involved. The lifelong learning process on
the other hand is more related to the computer era
since involves access to resources available on the
internet. Also the communication is important for
professionals that join associations to share experi-
ence, exchange information and facilitate solutions
to problems and in this respect little can be done
without the help of computers and internet.