CE 008: Surveying

William Greenwood

Assistant Professor, Dept. Civil and Environmental Engineering at SJSU

Course Name & Description: CE 008 (currently titled Plane Surveying) provides civil engineering students with technical background of field surveying methods and the opportunity to apply them during a laboratory session. Topics covered include: distance and angle measurements, coordinate geometry, leveling, control surveys, topographic methods, geographic information systems, unpiloted aircraft systems, and satellite positioning. 

Project Abstract: Changes to industrial technology and employer demands have created a need to update the CE 008 curriculum to include topics such as 3D modeling, global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), unpiloted aircraft systems (UAS), and geographic information systems (GIS). The cost of the complete equipment sets required for these topics is prohibitive. Therefore, creative methods to provide students with both virtual and hands-on learning opportunities are needed. The course currently covers surveying fundamentals and field methods which are topics tested by the engineering surveying supplemental exam required for PE licensure in California. To expand the current curriculum to encompass both surveying fundamentals, field methods, and the updated topics, efficient course instruction and seamless integration of the laboratory and lecture portions of the course. This project will create a learning pipeline of fundamental background (lecture), field implementation (laboratory), and data understanding (homework and laboratory) for students. The combination of direct hands-on learning opportunities in the laboratory and post-laboratory virtual data interaction will directly approach student limitations in spatial awareness and 3D data visualization which have contributed to struggles in related upper-division courses.

Keywords/Tags: Civil Engineering, Surveying, Geomatics, GIS, UAS, 3D Modeling

Instructional Delivery: In-class

Pedagogical Approaches: Supplemental Instruction, Active Learning, 3D Visualization, VR

About the LIT Redesign (Stage 1)

Background on the Redesign

Why Redesign your Course?

  • CE 008 has several objectives: it prepares students for the surveying supplemental exam required for California PE licenses, exposes students to industrial technologies, provides an opportunity for field engineering, and prepares students for upper-division civil engineering courses.
  • The most challenging aspects of the course involve working with spatial data and 3D visualizations.
  • Between Spring 2017 and Spring 2019, CE 008 had a DFW rate of about 5-10%. This rate is low when compared to other lower-division laboratory courses at SJSU in the college of engineering.
  • CE 008 is a foundational course for upper-division courses CE 121 (Transportation Engineering) and CE 123 (Highway and Street Design). These courses have had DFW rates of approximately 10-15% and 15-30% between Spring 2017 and Fall 2018. 
  • Virtual learning opportunities that allow for curriculum expansion and improve student spatial awareness without negatively impacting DFW rates can be achieved.

High Demand/Low Success/Facilities Bottleneck Issues

  • Currently, students struggle with 3D visualization and spatial awareness. These are important skills for civil engineers, especially when civil infrastructure designs initiate in 2D and are later extended to address the complex 3D scenarios engineers face. 
  • The lack of student readiness in these skill areas causes lagged student learning in upper-division courses that emphasize geometric design. 

Course History / Background

  • CE 008 is a lower-division engineering course in the civil and environmental engineering department at SJSU. It is a prerequisite for upper-division courses in transportation engineering.
  • The course also helps students develop skills that are critical for civil engineering such as understanding scale, spatial awareness, and creating engineering drawings.

(CE 008 F19 Syllabus.pdf)

About the Students and Instructor(s) (Stage 2)

Student Characteristics

  • CE 008 is often the first major course taken by civil engineering students in the department. Few students transfer with credit for CE 008 because equivalent courses are rare at local universities and community colleges.

Advice I Give my Students to be Successful

  • The early start time for lecture makes class tempting to skip for students. I strongly encourage students to attend lecture where we cover topics in the greatest depth and draw connections to what we do in the field during lab.
  • I push students to be involved during lab sessions. CE 008 is an early opportunity for students get hands-on experience with equipment and field engineering. This can also help connect them with potential internships.
  • I also push my students to focus on mastering the fundamentals. A strong grasp of the fundamental concepts in CE 008 will give them a jump start on being successful in upper-division engineering courses.

Impact of Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives (SLOs) on Course Redesign

  • Measure horizontal, vertical, and slope distaces in the field.
  • Measure horizontal and vertical angles in the field.
  • Plan and perform vertical and horizontal control surveys.
  • Prepare field notes and document field data.
  • Generate topographic maps, profiles, and other graphical deliverables.
  • Explain the types of surveys used for civil engineering projects.
  • Explain the types of technology used by civil engineers and land surveyors.
  • Recognize and identify industry standard tools (i.e. software and equipment).

Alignment of SLOs With LIT Redesign

  • The LIT redesign will enhance the content associated with all of the SLOs
  • The greatest impact will be made on exposing students to industry standard technological tools and allowing them to work with the tools directly.

Assessments Used to Measure Students' Achievement of SLOs

  • Student achievement of SLOs in the context of technology will be measured based on the overall increase in relevant content in the course.
  • The relative performance on technology-enhanced topics will be compared to performance pre-technology. For example, students currently struggle with the concept of parallax in aerial/satellite photographs.

Accessibility, Affordability, and Diversity Accessibility

  • The technology enhancements are intended to enhance the experience of all students. SJSU accessibility resources will be utilized to ensure technology enhances the experience of students with disabilities.


  • The technology enhancements will have no impact on course affordability. There will be no increase in cost.


  • The technology enhancements will make the course material more approachable for our diverse group of students. The current lack of 3D visualization assistance can prevent visual learners from keeping up with the most complex topics.
  • Following the LIT redesign, the course will combine traditional lectures, flipped classroom lab activities, student-led hands-on lab activities, and video demonstrations.

About the Instructor

  • William Greenwood is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at San Jose State University.
  • He teaches and coordinates courses in surveying, drafting, geographic information systems, and data analysis.
  • William completed his Ph.D. in civil engineering at the University of Michigan in 2018.
  • His research interests include unpiloted aircraft systems (UAS), geotechnical earthquake engineering, computer vision, sensors, and machine learning applied to civil infrastructure systems.

Curriculum Vitae

  • My C.V. with the details of my background and interests:

LIT Redesign Planning (Stage 3)

Implementing the Redesigned Course What aspects of your course have you redesigned?

  • The focus of the course redesign was on the laboratory portion.
  • The course is structured for two 50 minute lectures per week and a 2 hour and 45 minute laboratory session. Each laboratory session holds 15 to 18 students.
  • Laboratory assignments were redesigned to incorporate more technology to aid with student spatial visualization and quantitative understanding.
  • The implemented technology also allowed for adaptation of some lecture topics to reconnect with lab using the same technology and provided new media for conceptual demonstrations.

Describe the class size(s) What technology is being used?

  • New technology incorporated into the course is primarily software-based. 
  • Pix4D is a software that uses Structure-from-Motion to create 3D reconstructions from many overlapping photographs.
  • Such 3D reconstructions have become more common in the industry but have technical background requirements that exceed the scope of the redesigned course.
  • The Pix4D software has a simple process for generating 3D models from photographs and works well for demonstrating concepts and best practices to the students.
  • Once a model is generated, a simulated “fly-through” video can be created to show different viewing angles and return students to what they saw in reality.
  • The course has also expanded use of AutoCAD. Students are not required to use AutoCAD in this course (it is used in the partner course CE 20: Engineering Graphics, CAD, and Programming) but data collected by the students in lab is used to make drawings that are shown in lecture.
  • By using the student data to create demonstrations and other deliverables, they are shown how what they have done is part of a broader engineering workflow.

What professional development activities have you participated during your course redesign?

  • I enrolled in an AutoDesk CAD course offered through Coursera and an ArcGIS course through ESRI to expand my software technology knowledge.

Which Additional Resources Were Needed for the Redesign?

  • This course redesign targeted student learning issues that were not necessarily apparent during the course.
  • Typically, these issues would manifest in upper-division engineering courses where students cannot get by without strong spatial visualization skills.
  • As a result, I needed to better understand what was happening in those courses and get the perspective of the instructors.

(CE 008 Syllabus 2020.pdf)

LIT Results and Findings (Stage 4)

LIT Redesign Impact on Teaching and Learning

  • How has the course redesign strategies affected your instruction and your students’ learning? Did your redesign strategy solve the issues that motivated you to redesign the course?
  • Describe how your students mastered the student learning outcomes. Were the students more successful in the redesigned course than in previous courses? Explain.
  • Did you experience unexpected results after teaching the redesigned course? If so, what were they?
  • Consider attaching a more in-depth report describing the impact of your activities and experiences during the course redesign as a document/link/image. If possible consider including samples of students' work that reflect the impact of the redesign.

Assessment Findings

  • Use table and chart template to report course data (required).
  • Upload table and chart from your template (required) and reflect on your findings with a short description. You must include a course grades comparison of pre/post student achievements.
  • Share how your students achieved the learning outcomes? Describe how they mastered the learning outcomes compared to previous courses?

Student Feedback

  • What did your students say or how did they respond to the redesigned activities? Consider including your students' comments about their learning. Include survey results if you are able to capture them. Include student video feedback (optional).

Challenges my Students Encountered

  • What challenges did the students encounter in the redesigned activities? E.g., technical challenges, organization of course, and redesigned activities.

Lessons Learned & Redesign Tips

Teaching Tips

  • What advice do you have for others who might want to use this redesigned course?

Course Redesign Obstacles

  • What challenges did you confront and how did you overcome them?

Strategies I Used to Increase Engagement

  • What pedagogical strategies did you use in your new redesigned course to engage students?


  • How do plan to sustain the LIT redesign beyond the funding period?

Instructor Reflection

  • Reflect on your participation in redesigning a course, development of an ePortfolio, participation in CSU Course Redesign Professional Learning Community Share any plans to disseminate/publish the findings of your course redesign activity.