A concept is defined, according to the Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture, as a principle or idea with a principle being defined as a truth or belief that is accepted as a base for reasoning or action. Structural concepts form one of the main foundations of study and design in civil and structural engineering.

The understanding of structural concepts is a key element for students to learn, for lecturers to teach and for engineers to use in civil and structural engineering. The teaching and learning of structural concepts at university needs to be enhanced to meet changes and challenges in our learning environment and in the world of work.

In the past some of this understanding has been developed through practice with hand calculations but now many such hand calculations are replaced by the use of computers and new methods of gaining an understanding of structural concepts must be found. Indeed the understanding of structural concepts, fundamental to the sound and innovative design of structures (buildings, bridges etc) is even more important because of the wide use of computers and the, often unquestioning, reliance placed on the results of computer analyses which though correct in themselves may be based on incorrect assumptions and modelling. This is in line with criticisms from the construction industry that graduates tend to place over reliance on the use of computers. Graduates are generally good at using computers but many are unable to judge whether the results obtained from computers are correct, which indicates that students may not be made adequately familiar with basic structural concepts during their university studies.

Structural concepts are abstract and students sometimes find them hard to understand. The understanding of the applications of these structural concepts in university teaching is weak as textbooks tend not to provide such examples and students understanding of structural concepts is limited by solving coursework questions.

It has been observed in class teaching and talks that students show a greater interest in topics which are demonstrated physically than in topics which are explained by words and blackboard/OHP/PowerPoint diagrams. They also show a greater interest in practical examples which illustrate the use of concepts in the solution to engineering problems rather than in coursework examples. Students are motivated by "hands on" experience and by the linking of concepts and models to real engineering problems.

In such a background, we have been developed what we called seeing and touching structural concepts to supplement traditional class teaching and learning.

To enable this, three parallel themes are being followed:
  • providing a series of simple demonstration models for illustrating structural concepts and principles in conventional class teaching which allow students to gain better understanding;
  • providing associated good engineering examples to demonstrate the applications of the structural concepts and principles which help to bridge the gaps between students knowledge and practice;
  • converting appropriate research output which particularly involves structural concepts into teaching material to improve existing course contents.

Structural concepts that can be physically demonstrated are identified then simple demonstration models to illustrate the concepts, suitable for class use, are made. Whenever possible, students help to design and make these models.

Engineering examples are examined and appropriate designs are selected for showing how related structural concepts can be applied in practice. Bad examples, such as collapses, are equally sought as these often show the consequence of the misunderstanding of structural concepts.

Although research and teaching are undertaken in parallel in universities, links between research output and undergraduate teaching are not always made early enough. Research output, which particularly concerns or illustrates structural concepts, is being converted to forms suitable for linking with simple demonstration models and practical applications for use in class teaching.

After several years, we have made a number of physical models for illustrating structural concepts and identified a number of engineering cases and every day examples for showing the applications of these concepts. These models and examples illustrating structural concepts are normally not included in textbooks but are useful to supplement learning and teaching. Students can quickly grasp a concept when it is physically demonstrated and its application is illustrated. Therefore, we create this website as an accumulated and accumulating knowledge source for learning, teaching and using structural concepts.