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The National Transportation Curriculum Project: Developing Activity-Based Learning Modules for the Introductory Transportation Engineering Course

The National Transportation Curriculum Project, a group of transportation educators from nine major U.S. universities, proposes to develop a set of activity-based learning modules for the introductory course in transportation engineering.  The activities will cover traffic operations and highway capacity, geometric design, traffic safety, transportation planning and land development, finance and economics, public transportation and non-motorized modes, transportation systems, asset management, pavements, and user behavior/human factors.


Transportation engineering workforce development at the university level is typically promoted through civil engineering programs. Nearly all of the nation’s 224 civil engineering programs have one or two required transportation courses as part of their undergraduate program. For some civil engineering sub-disciplines, such as geotechnical, materials, structures, and hydraulics, there is a logical sequence of required prerequisite courses leading to the required junior level courses. For other disciplines, however, the logic and sequence is less clear. This is certainly the case for the typical progression of transportation courses. A lack of clarity and connection with other sub-disciplines pose significant challenges for faculty, students, and practitioners in transportation engineering. It is likely that these challenges negatively impact the “pipeline” so commonly discussed when considering transportation workforce development.

Background – The Transportation Education Conference

A Transportation Engineering Educators Conference was held at Portland State University in June 2009 to identify strategies to address these opportunities and needs [Kyte and Bertini, 2009]. The conference was designed to bring together university faculty and transportation practitioners to focus on the introductory transportation engineering course and collaborate on ways that it can be improved. The conference’s interactive format encouraged the exchange of innovative ideas and best practices, the discussion of current research, and the development of action plans to sustain progress on specific topics after the conference.  More than 60 transportation educators and professionals participated in the conference to hear presentations on innovations in transportation engineering education and participate in a series of workshops on defining the learning domain and creating active learning environments for the introductory course in transportation engineering.  Three overarching questions provided a unifying theme for the conference:

  1. How do we map the learning domain for transportation engineering as it relates to the introductory transportation class?
  2. How do we create active learning environments for undergraduate transportation engineering students?
  3. How do we develop collaborative tools for sharing transportation engineering curricular materials across instructors and institutions?

The conference produced the following findings:

  1.  It is critical that the one or two required undergraduate transportation engineering course(s) address a minimum set of core competencies (“learning domain”).
  2. There should be a common set of knowledge tables that map the learning domains which could be used by instructors across universities as the basis of the required course(s).
  3. There is a need for effective strategies that provide contextual active learning environments for students in these courses.
  4. There is a need to develop collaborative tools for sharing transportation engineering curricular materials across instructors and institutions.
What We’ve Accomplished

In the 18 months since the conference, a working group, known as the National Transportation Curriculum Project and consisting of approximately fifteen university transportation engineering educators, has met consistently on a monthly basis to continue the work started at the conference.  During this time, this working group has:

  1.   Developed a set of learning outcomes and knowledge tables for ten subject areas in transportation, including traffic operations, transportation planning, geometric design, transportation finance and economics, traffic safety, public transportation and non-motorized modes, human factors and driver behavior.
  2. Made presentations of this work at meetings of the American Society of Engineering Education (including publication in the conference proceedings) and the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
  3. Made two presentations of this work at annual meetings of the Transportation Research Board and submitted the work to the Transportation Research Record.
  4. Published a summary of the learning outcomes and knowledge tables in the ITE Journal and hosted a discussion and review of the work at the 2010 ITE annual meeting in Vancouver, BC.
  5. Conducted day-long workshops at the 2010 TRB annual meeting and the 2010 ITE annual meeting, and presented the knowledge tables and learning objectives at an education workshop held at the 2011 TRB annual meeting.