Archive for September, 2008

35W Bridge Rendering

35W Bridge Rendering


It was just over a year ago when I began this blog and wrote about the collapse of Minneapolis’ I-35W bridge. I focused that post on the city-enabled wireless technology deployed within hours of the collapse, aiding communications to and among first responders (since the cellular networks were overloaded), and proivding an avenue for real-time sharing of information and videos with the rest of the world. Given that I live in the Twin Cities and the focus of this blog – in a round-about way, is about technology – I thought it a fitting post then and again now, to talk about the technology used in the new bridge. 

I haven’t personally traveled on the bridge yet, but have noticed significant relief from the congestion on nearby arteries, used as alternative routes routinely. I think all Twin Citians can claim a little less stress and time to commute cross-town now.

While not every last piece is completed, the builders, Flatiron Constructors Corp., say that substantial work has been done, with only the trimmings remaining. This will be carefully measured as the company’s $234 million contract included a $200,000-a-day incentive for each day the bridge was finished before December 24, 2008.

But back to the technology piece; some boast that the cutting-edge technology will make this new 35W bridge a model for future bridges, as well as a model for bridge inspection and maintenance. Here is an excerpt from a recently published Minnesota Public Radio article by Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio, September 16 (includes audio file):

The key to the new design is redundancy, that means it’s designed to transfer load between different parts of the bridge. If one section fails, the others will pick up the slack and prevent a collapse. But it’s the so-called Smart Bridge technology that really sets it apart. The new span is fitted with 323 sensors that will take regular readings on the bridge’s condition. Each one will monitor things like deck movement, stress and temperature. The data will be collected and analyzed by a team from the University of Minnesota. MnDot officials said the information will make bridge inspection and maintenance much easier over the life of the bridge.”

This may help skittish bridge goers feel a bit less apprehensive about traversing the Mississippi River over by the U of M, but I’m wondering where the funds will come from to repair the myriad other bridges in urgent need of repair. All eyes were on this one due to shocking nature of a very large section of a bridge going down in one huge hunk and the devastation it caused (or the potential fear it generated in wondering which bridge is next).

It’s always a catch-up game in the U.S., with domestic issues (let’s count them) being terribly underfunded. I am always hopeful that some day we can jettison our quick-fix mentality for a long term preventive strategy, but that takes a willingness to fund these necessary projects and yes, might just require an increase in taxes or a re-prioritization of our revenues.

Well, until we can stay ahead of the game, it’s back to whack-a-mole.

For additional information on the I-35W bridge collapse and reconstruction, here are some links.


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[This is the second installment of a series of posts, which will document my own process in giving my fall course a total makeover. I teach Operations Management, an upper division course in the College of Management. This is my first face-to-face course in several years; I’ve taught exclusively online for the past 5 years. I will attempt to re-engineer my course delivery to make use of learner-centered tools, many considered included in the world of Web 2.0. It will be an interesting experiment, one I hope will benefit my students. If you haven’t read earlier posts on this topic, I’ve provided links at the very end of this post.] 

Here it is the third week of the semester and three class sessions have come and gone and I have much to report already (it’s all good). But yes, I’m counting the weeks (12 left) because I still have much preparation in any given week to help my vision of making each session both relevant and learner-centered, come alive.

Here’s a recap of my vision for change in conducting this course makeover:

  1. Replace my lectures (albeit relatively shorter than average) with super mini lectures (max 20 min) which are energized, interesting multi-media presentations. I talk only to shore up what I consider are the most important themes, concepts, or facts for any given class session. Everything else can be found in the required reading or the myriad materials I have posted to the online course site.
  2. Have the students spend most of their 3 hours and 20 minutes together working on relevant course projects mimicking the way the business environment collaborates on projects. 
  3. Incorporate several free Web 2.0 technologies, increasing the time students are serving as active participants in the construction of their knowledge, rather than being passive recipients of it.

Here’s what I changed:

  1. I redesigned my assessment activities to be team-based, learner centered and more relevant.
  2. I replaced individual assignments with more current, team-based activites/projects.
  3. I eliminated my boring bulleted overhead slides from five years prior. I now use the computer exclusively to present, using Power Points the way they should be used, to accent concepts, to link to interesting external sources, learning objects, or videos, and to embed some humor.
  4. I am limiting my mini lecture presentations to 8 or fewer slides.
  5. I eliminated heavy exams and replaced them with “quiz-lights,” reducing the value of their portion of the total grade to 11% (down from 40%).
  6. I eliminated term papers prepared in pairs, replacing those assessment activities with team-based assignments. The outputs for each assessment will be wiki presentations full of multi-modal artifacts. Artifacts can include (not a comprehensive list) useful Web resources/links, paraphrased content, reflections on a topic, Wikipedia definitions, YouTube videos, their own self-made videos or audio files, images, charts, learning objects, or whatever they find relevant to the assignment.
  7. I had the class moved to a computer lab for the entire semester.
  8. I am mixng up some of the class discussions by using live conferencing software (WebEx) – instead of verbal discussion.
  9. I set up a class wiki, where students will publish the results of their team projects and in-class activities. In this way, the results are available for the entire semester, and anyone in the class can add or modify the content over time, add comments, or interesting links. Plus as students are reporting out during class, they have a visual collaborative software to view and work on.
  10. I am allowing enough time in class to provide instruction and practice on new technolgoies introduced.

Early results:

  1. The energy in the room is high and lasts right up until the last minute of class. Last night they didn’t stop working at 9:20. In the past they couldn’t wait to get out of class. Gone are  the yawns and uninterested faces right around 8:30 PM.  
  2. Almost everyone is contributing actively, engaged with each other and many with me as I walk around the room. No one is hiding in the back of the room, under the radar.
  3. They readily formed teams during the seond week with absolutely no prompting on my part. 
  4. They have willingly embraced the notion of team projects, with team scores, if it means less individual “heavy” homework, such as writing two papers on their own or completing 5-6 indivudual problem-based assignments.
  5. At first some were nervous about learning new technologies, but everyone is on board with what has been introduced to date, with very little assistance required. Class mates are willingly helping each other as needed.

Last night I asked my students to at some point in the semester, weigh in on their experience with this course. They are quite aware of the fact that I am trying something radically different. I won’t really know the results of this course makeover until I: 1)see their grades, 2)have more weeks to observe, and 3) (perhaps most important) ask them! As vulnerable as it feels, I will make sure their comments are included on this blog.

Prior post: Part 1 of this series

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