Recently in Education Category


AHB45 Committee on Traffic Flow Theory and Characteristics will host a special webinar on March 19, 11:00 AM EDT on "To Game or Not to Game: Teaching Transportation with Board Games".

Special webinar supported by the Promotion and Education of TFT Domain to Students, Transportation Agencies, Politicians and Public Using Fun and Cool Methods Subcommittee (PEPSub)

Time: March 19, 11:00 AM EDT

Speaker: Arthur Huang from Valparaiso University

Topic: To Game or Not to Game: Teaching Transportation with Board Games

Webinar at

Heilmeier's Catechism

I saw a presentation by Prof. Sheldon Jacobson yesterday, and he mentioned following Heilmeier's Catechism as a criteria for successful NSF proposals. I had not heard of this, so looked it up, and it is worth repeating:

Heilmeier's Catechism:

A set of questions credited to Heilmeier that anyone proposing a research project or product development effort should be able to answer.
  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What's new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares?
  • If you're successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks and the payoffs?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final "exams" to check for success?

We have an insufficient number of Catechisms dictating the practicalities of academic research.

Recently published:

Traditional "chalk and talk" teaching in civil engineering is gradually being replaced with active learning that focuses on encouraging students to discover knowledge with innovative pedagogical methods and tools. One interesting such tool is the board game. This research examines the efficacy of adopting transportation board games as a tool in graduate-level transportation planning and transportation economics classes at the University of Minnesota from 2008 to 2011. The Department of Civil Engineering offered these courses with transportation board games on weekday nights. Students were asked to evaluate the effects of the games on their learning and to write self-reflective essays about their findings. The postgame survey revealed that the students' understanding of the planning process, network deployment, and practical issues, and their ability to form opinions about transportation planning had improved. Student essays on the game economy and its implications on planning further validated that the learning outcomes derived from this game process met the pedagogical goals. This analysis shows that students who are oriented toward learning more on the basis of the visual, sensing, active, or sequential learning styles, with all else being equal, tend to learn more effectively through this approach than those who do not share these learning styles. Overall, this research suggests that properly incorporating board games into the curriculum can enhance students' learning in transportation planning.

Jason Hong talks about PhDs from the Faculty's Perspective The short version:

  • Break Out of the Undergraduate Mentality
  • Own Your Research
  • Be willing to push back
  • Be active in the social dimension of research.
  • Build Up Your Skills, but Get Out as Soon as You Can


Xuan Di, Henry Liu, and David Levinson. (2012) Multi-agent Route Choice Game for Transportation Engineering. (Working paper)

In undergraduate transportation engineering courses, traffic assignment is a difficult concept for both instructors to teach and for students to learn, because it involves many mathematical derivations and computations. We have designed a multiplayer game to engage students in the process of learning route choice, so that students can visualize how the traffic gradually reach user equilibrium (UE). For one scenario, we employ a Braess' Paradox, and explore the phenomenon during the game-play. We have done the case-control and before-after comparisons. The statistical results show that, students who played the game improve their understanding of the Braess' Paradox more than those who did not play. Among game players, younger students benefit more in their learning; while those who are not comfortable with exploring a phenomenon on their own think this game not as effective as those who prefer hands-on learning experiences.


Recently published:

Huang, Arthur and David Levinson (2012) STREET: Where simulation meets reality Cultivating Change in the Academy (eds. Duin, Ann Hill et al.)

Simulations and games are receiving increasing attention in teaching in higher education. In this context, we developed a series of simulation modules (STREET) in transportation engineering education and applied them in teaching undergraduate and graduate transportation courses at the University of Minnesota. After several years, we contend that they represent an effective pedagogical tool in transportation education. In this chapter we describe our motivation for this work, the program's development process, dissemination and impacts, and our future work.



At the STREET - Simulating Transportation for Realistic Engineering Education and Training website, we have a new model, ANGIE:

"The Agent-based Network Growth model with Incremental Evolution (ANGIE) models the growth of road networks in several scenarios such as road networks in an artificial grid-like city and the Minneapolis Downtown Skyway network. The philosophy inherent in these models is that accessibility affects road network growth and vice versa. The examples aim to illustrate that different values of accessibility at individual locations can lead to different network topologies."

The model is what we used on two papers:

We welcome feedback.

The Campus Iconic |

I have a new post up at The Campus Iconic

Washington Mall Extended

I have a new post at Washington Mall Extended.

Cities or Solitude

| 1 Comment

Susan Kain in the New York Times has a pro-Introvert article: The Rise of the New Groupthink: "SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. "

In contrast, there are many who believe that cities, the machines that enables those inter-personal interactions, are the source of creativity. This is epitomized by recent books by Ed Glaeser and Ryan Avent.

We can make a simple table:

City Country
Introvert Optimal amount of stimulation if quite space,
Practical Creativity
Hermit alone in thoughts,
Pure theory
Extrovert Too many attractions,
Connects rather than creates
Unsatisfied, No one to riff with

This is a gross oversimplification of personality and environments, and the text in the boxes is probably unfair to extroverts, who I am sure have created something in the history of humanity. It does however suggest both the risks of cities on being too stimulative (not enough time for thought), and the country (i.e. the antithesis of the city), which may be insufficiently stimulative and leave too much time for thought and not enough for testing of ideas.

Several really good ideas have come from the country though, and not just agricultural implements. My favorite story is that of Philo Farnsworth, one of the individuals credited with inventing the television. As wikipedia says: "A farm boy, his inspiration for scanning an image as series of lines came from the back-and-forth motion used to plow a field." We would not have had television as soon, or possibly in the same form, but for agricultural plowing strategies.

The key is to ensure the city has quite spaces, and the country has connecting places, both of which societies create, although one can argue whether the quantities and qualities are optimal for various things.

See also my old post: Does creativity whither with age?.

Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction

Bret Victor of the Kill Math project has Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction which uses a very simple driving simulator as an illustration. Everyone doing simulation or in transportation engineering education should read this.

How can we design systems when we don't know what we're doing?

The most exciting engineering challenges lie on the boundary of theory and the unknown. Not so unknown that they're hopeless, but not enough theory to predict the results of our decisions. Systems at this boundary often rely on emergent behavior — high-level effects that arise indirectly from low-level interactions.

When designing at this boundary, the challenge lies not in constructing the system, but in understanding it. In the absence of theory, we must develop an intuition to guide our decisions. The design process is thus one of exploration and discovery.

How do we explore? If you move to a new city, you might learn the territory by walking around. Or you might peruse a map. But far more effective than either is both together — a street-level experience with higher-level guidance.

Likewise, the most powerful way to gain insight into a system is by moving between levels of abstraction. Many designers do this instinctively. But it's easy to get stuck on the ground, experiencing concrete systems with no higher-level view. It's also easy to get stuck in the clouds, working entirely with abstract equations or aggregate statistics.

This interactive essay presents the ladder of abstraction, a technique for thinking explicitly about these levels, so a designer can move among them consciously and confidently.

I believe that an essential skill of the modern system designer will be using the interactive medium to move fluidly around the ladder of abstraction.


Recent working paper:

  • Huang, Arthur and Levinson, David (2011) To game or not to game: teaching transportation planning with board games. (working paper)
Traditional "chalk and talk" teaching in civil engineering has gradually been replaced with the idea of active learning focusing on encouraging students' knowledge discovery with innovative pedagogical methods and tools. One interesting tool is the board game. This research examines the efficacy of adopting transportation board games as a tool in graduate-level transportation planning and transportation economics classes at the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Minnesota from 2008 to 2010. In these classes, a weekday night was scheduled for playing transportation board games. Students were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the games on their learning and to write a self-reflective paper about their findings. The majority of the students reveal that their understanding of the planning process, network deployment, and practical issues, and and their ability to form opinion about transportation planning has been improved. Their summaries on the game economy and its implications on planning validate that their understanding obtained from this game process has met the pedagogical goals. Our analysis further shows that students who are moderately/highly visual, sensing, active, or sequential, all else equal, tend to learn more effectively through this approach than those who are not. Overall, this research suggests that properly incorporating board games into the curriculum can enhance students' learning process in transportation planning.

Privatizing U

Matt Kahn talks about taking his employer private:

Fundraising for UCLA:

"I also believe that UCLA is at a key point in its history.  I have told senior members of the University's administration that we should accept $0 per year from the state.  We need to go 'cold turkey' and not take another dime.  Cutting our 'financial lifeline' would liberate us from silly Sacramento rules and signal to our thousands of alumni that it is up to them to step up and play a leadership role in supporting the school.  The politicians in Sacramento have other priorities -- somehow excellence is not one of them.

UCLA pays its basketball coach and its football coach over $2 million each.  This signals that either we really think that is valuable stuff or that we believe that it promotes donations to the school.  In my vision for the 'new UCLA', the faculty will step up and make a serious case for why UCLA will continue to be a great school and in fact that we will improve as a research university because we have embraced free market principals.

In capitalism, higher quality products feature a higher price tag.  

Substitute "University of Minnesota" for "UCLA" (and St. Paul for Sacramento). The situation here is not as dire as California, but this is a discussion we need to have. I suspect it will happen whether or not the U of Mn intends or embraces it, but planning for this kind of change will beat not-planning for it.

BusMeister Game

| 1 Comment

Andy Nash has just let loose the BusMeister Game and is looking for comments. Note it requires Flash plug-in.

From the NY Times In India, Many Potholes and Not Enough Engineers

PUNE, INDIA -- Call it India's engineering paradox.


Civil engineering was once an elite occupation in India, not only during the British colonial era of carving roads and laying train tracks, but long after independence as part of the civil service. These days, though, India's best and brightest know there is more money and prestige in writing software for foreign customers than in building roads for their nation.


Moreover, many people who earn degrees in civil engineering never work in the profession or, like Mr. Mandvekar, leave it soon after they graduate to take better-paying jobs in information technology, management consulting or financial services.

In August, 31 of last year I wrote:

As part of the NSF-funded STREET project, we have been putting together ''Fundamentals of Transportation'', a wikibook. I intend to use this next semester as the main text for my Introduction to Transportation Engineering course (CE 3201). We welcome comments and, since this is a wikibook, additions and edits. (Please login using your real name).

This book is aimed at undergraduate civil engineering students, though the material may provide a useful review for practitioners and graduate students in transportation. Typically, this would be for an Introduction to Transportation course, which might be taken by most students in their sophomore or junior year. Often this is the first engineering course students take, which requires a switch in thinking from simply solving given problems to formulating the problem mathematically before solving it, i.e. from straight-forward calculation often found in undergraduate Calculus to vaguer word problems more reflective of the real world.

Well, we are pleased to announce that Fundamentals of Transportation has now been recognized as a "Featured Book" on Wikibooks*. The book is by no means "complete"; but it is I think workable for its purpose, and again any constructive contributions (sections, chapters, new topics, new examples, new problems, better explanations) would still be welcome.

For those of you not familiar with Wikibooks, they operate using the same software and syntax as Wikipedia, and are editable by anyone, though only approved edits are visible. The nature of the project is the creation of textbooks and other references, rather than an encyclopedia, so each project retains its own point-of-view.

* other recent promotions include The Muggles Guide to Harry Potter and Small Numbers

Fundamentals of Transportation

As part of the NSF-funded STREET project, we have been putting together ''Fundamentals of Transportation'', a wikibook. I intend to use this next semester as the main text for my Introduction to Transportation Engineering course (CE 3201). We welcome comments and, since this is a wikibook, additions and edits. (Please login using your real name).

This book is aimed at undergraduate civil engineering students, though the material may provide a useful review for practitioners and graduate students in transportation. Typically, this would be for an Introduction to Transportation course, which might be taken by most students in their sophomore or junior year. Often this is the first engineering course students take, which requires a switch in thinking from simply solving given problems to formulating the problem mathematically before solving it, i.e. from straight-forward calculation often found in undergraduate Calculus to vaguer word problems more reflective of the real world.

Recently published:

King, David, Kevin Krizek, and David Levinson (2008) Designing and Assessing a Teaching Laboratory for an Integrated Land Use and Transportation Course. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board #2046 pp 85-93 [doi]

The intersection of land use and transportation policy is becoming an increasingly important focus for all urban planners. This focus, however, challenges the academic community to design effective courses that teach the concepts and professional skills required for professional experience. Integrated land use and transportation courses should engage students to develop interdisciplinary skills while becoming familiar with, for example, travel behavior and zoning policies. Laboratory courses (or segments of courses) as part of graduate curricula provide platforms to further emphasize skills. A common pedagogy problem is devising laboratory assignments that are integrative, cumulative, practical, and interesting for students. Furthermore, laboratory projects should introduce students to real-world problems and techniques while exploring broad planning themes. This paper presents uses four years of laboratory segments from a land use-transportation course (LUTC) at the University of Minnesota to evaluate the needs and results of practitioner-oriented land use and transportation planning education. The laboratory used group projects where students proposed integrated developments using air rights above existing (and sunken) urban freeways in the Twin Cities. The projects provided a practitioner-oriented project through a collaborative and reflexive learning process. This article describes the completed projects, as well as the technical skills, integrated approach and visionary planning necessary for successful execution. The students addressed complicated problems associated with large-scale development by researching neighborhood demographics, characteristics, and pertinent regulations. They used their research to analyze traffic impacts, propose zoning regulations, and outline costs and benefits from their proposal using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), statistical analyses, assessor data and traffic engineering manuals. Using the completed student projects and comparisons with other land use-transportation course and laboratory projects the authors demonstrate how these laboratory components serve multiple pedagogy goals.

Keywords: Air Rights, Transportation-Land Use Planning, Education

With my colleague Chen-fu Liao, I am attending the Transportation Education Conference at Portland State University June 22-24, 2009. Our presentation, Simulating Transportation for Realistic Engineering Education and Training (STREET), is now online. It describes the NSF-funded STREET project.

Contact me if you are a transportation educator interested in participating.

US News College rankings

Continuing on the game of rankings: US News has posted its rankings, Minnesota schools are here: Minnesota college rankings

It shows, among national universities, The U ranks 61, but 22 among public universities.

This is considerably worse than Academic Ranking of World Universities posted yesterday which placed us 28th in the world (though arguably 7th among North American university systems).

It is however much better than than this news: University ranked 524th by Forbes.

I wonder if these guys really have a methodology, or just a roulette wheel.

Fundamentals of Transportation

As part of our Simulating Transportation for Realistic Engineering Education and Training NSF project, we have been assembling an active textbook. The book, Fundamentals of Transportation , is part of the wikibooks project, and aims to provide pages that provide an introductory and fundamental look at transportation, targeted at the undergraduate Introduction to Transportation course.

As a wikibook, it is editable by anyone, however unlike wikipedia, we aim to keep the contributors known. If you have additions, corrections, and improvements to make, please do so, but please use your real name so we know who you are (at least on your user page) (or email me identifying yourself if you really need to be web anonymous. Additional resources, good diagrams, better explanations, problem sets, etc. are welcome. All need to meet the wikibook standard of being licensable under the GNU Free Documentation License. Anything you create and are willing to license is fine, as is public domain. Copyrighted material is not, without permission of copyright holders.

From a quality perspective, this book needs to be appropriate for an undergraduate textbook, so the difficulty level should be tuned to that. Of course, it also needs to be correct or true to the best of our knowledge.

Comments are welcome.

The most recent Academic Ranking of World Universities is now out

The University of Minnesota ranks 28th in the World, 21st in the North American region, and 10th among US public universities (which can be compared with the oft-stated goal to be among the top 3).

Minnesota is behind UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, Penn, Washington, Madison, UCSF, Michigan, and Illinois. Given four are really part of the UC system (and UCSF was once part of UC Berkeley), we can describe ourselves as the 7th best public university system in US.

These rankings try to apply a systematic way to compare what is largely subjective. What would be useful would be looking at who produces the most Ph.D.s that go on to teaching at universities that produce Ph.Ds, etc., analogous to Google PageRank.

According to my local newspaper

The Bridge

" District transportation officials also eliminated some Pratt bus stops near the Glendale housing development, which is within the school’s walking zone. Isola said many of the new immigrants who live at Glendale don’t feel comfortable letting their children walk to school, however. “We’ve heard anecdotally that we’ve lost students there to other schools farther away that provide busing,? he said. “We’re hoping to restore some of those stops so we can get those students back.?"

The map of the distance is here:,44.968893,-93.219148&saddr=96+Saint+Marys+Ave+SE,+Minneapolis,+MN+55414+(Parents+in+Community+Action+Inc+(Pica):+Glendale)&daddr=pratt+school+55414&mra=pe&mrcr=0&sll=44.823173,-93.424879&sspn=0.372574,0.553436&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=17

of course they could walk use local streets, it is literally 2 - 3 blocks away. So, if the story is correct, rather than walk with their children to the neighborhood school, parents would prefer their kids to be bused to a school farther away.

Does creativity wither with age?

Hypothesis: No, creativity does not wither with age, though for scientists it appears to.

(1) Knowledge stores. Young people have less knowledge, any idea they generate seems new and original. As aging progresses, stores of knowledge increase and apparent insight is attributable to someone else and dismissed.

Cp ~ 1 /K

K - knowledge store
Cp - self-perceived creativity

(2) The idea queue. As one ages, one develops a large number of ideas. Science, however, unlike blogs, requires more than ideas, they must be tested. Once a sufficient number of ideas is generated, the service rate of testing constrains the number of ideas through the bottleneck of publication. New ideas arrive and sit at the back of the queue unless
(a). a queue jumper is installed, or
(b). the queue is a stack - unfortunately, working on only the most recent ideas may be seen as "flighty."

(3) Advertising. A third related factor facing faculty is the need for "advertising". A new idea to take root must be beat into the ground. This requires multiple papers, presentations, etc. on essentially the same topic (with of course each paper being an important contribution supporting the whole line of argument, with new empirical evidence, a different model, alternative parameters, related questions). Would that I could say it once and the whole world would hear. Every moment doing something similar is one less moment I could be doing something quite different.

(4) Resistance. The academic system, like all self-preserving systems, is geared away from new ideas. Several factors are at play.
(a) once tenured, the existential pressure (publish or *perish*) is off
(b) publication is easier for minor adaptations and new ideas than for more radical notions (rich ideas get richer).
(c) professional duties require passing on existing ideas (teaching the curriculum) more than professing new ones.
(d) committees/administrivia suck energy from creative people.
(e) money for new faculty is less restricted than others? [I am not sure whether this holds]
(f) older people are more likely to have children, which also suck away time available.

(5) Time budgets. Communication of ideas is inversely proportional to the generation of ideas. A time budget allows you to generate ideas or communicate them, the more you generate, the less time for communication, and vice versa. The more other things one is doing, the fewer the number of ideas generated.

(6) The nature of idea generation may change. Idea generation can be inductive or deductive

(a) For existing problems and solutions ... one can parameterize the question and explore the relevant parameterized space.
(b) Alternatively one can borrow / steal / transfer ideas from related disciplines. (Good artists copy, great artists steal.)

One can take an existing problem - formalize it, and then apply scientific method. This is good for "normal science" but is less likely to achieve real breakthroughs. We need to identify new problems, or new hypotheses for existing problems to make important contributions.

Practice ------------> Theory

With age, deductive reasoning may become more common and inductive reasoning less so, perhaps because of the "knowledge store" problem discussed above.

(7) Dysfunctions: A major dysfunction with idea generation is the generation of useless or damaging or wrong ideas. The main punishment for this is either wasted time (if it is not published), or shame and humiliation (if one does get published with a wrong idea). Of course many wrong ideas may be necessary to find right ones. However as one advances, the cost of punishment rises, particularly for public wrong ideas. A young person with a dumb idea is quickly forgotten, as there was no reputation to lose, a famous person with a wrong idea loses reputation.

(9) An alternative hypothesis is that creativity does wither with age. Though I don't like this one as much (for obvious reasons, it implies I will be less creative as I get older). A possible explanation is that older people have "hardened" brains, so new connections are harder to establish. Lots of biology may explain why this is so.

The overall quality of a public school is largely derived from two characteristics: the quality of the education provided (which depends in large part on teachers and facilities) and the quality of the learning (which depends on students). Hedonic models of house price indicate that the quality of public schools is capitalized in the value of land. Such matters are important. First, schools are a major determinant of property values and thus residential sorting by income, where the rich can isolate themselves from the poor. This introduces inequity into the system. Second, an analogy can be drawn to how roads should be paid for and whether users should pay or they should be capitalized into property taxes.

In a fascinating article: Rioting in China Over Label on College Diplomas - New York Times, students are in an uproar because their diplomas will bear the name of the lesser college they actually attended instead of the better college (with which the lesser school is affiliated) whose reputation they paid to acquire. Reputation is everything, and they are not doing much for the reputation of Zhengzhou University Shengda Economic, Trade and Management College by rioting. Of course they feel frustration, but they were trying to buy something they could not earn (the students paid extra for the lower ranked (and presumably less rigorous) school, but could not gain admittance to the better school).

Two from today's Strib illustrate a problem with priorities: Minneapolis gets real 'picky' about housing codes
Minneapolis terminates 305 teachers. So we have the funds for an inspector to give you a tag if your grass is too high, but again are annually laying off (and rehiring) teachers.

A good teacher would presumably be able to get a better deal than getting laid off each summer with no guarantee of rehire the following year, so we drive our best young teachers (without the seniority) out by policies like this (and my libertarian friends would say the probelm is we have public school in general, which may be true but even if public schools are second best to a free market in private schools, it doesn't mean we should manage them badly). If they are laid off because they are not competent, then they shouldn't be recalled under any circumstance, but this seems like an inability to manage staffing or anticipate demographics.

I will be on the panel of Transforming Education: Engaging Students with Technology. I will be discussing "Development of Transportation Planning Model Software for Classroom Instruction", which describes the ADAM (Agent-based Demand and Assignment Model) (JAVA Applet) which I developed with graduate students Shanjiang Zhu and Feng Xie, extending research done with Lei Zhang.

This seminar will be held Wednesday, May 3, 2006, 12:00 p.m.–1:30 p.m., 402 Walter Library, East Bank, Twin Cities campus.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

Subscribe to RSS headline updates from:

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Education category.

Economics is the previous category.

efficiency is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Monthly Archives


Powered by Movable Type 4.31-en