University of Strathclyde



This case study considers the use of the National Geographic magazine as a means to ignite the students’ curiosity with the world around them. The results from a pilot study and a content analysis of a number of editions from over a decade shows that this periodical regularly has themes directly concerning the impact of civil engineering in society, be it political, financial environmental, social or ecological.


Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

Faculty of Engineering

Contact Details

Dr Michael Murray




An exploratory pilot study involving 1st and 3rd year students (N=101) intended to encourage co-curricular reading.

Undergraduate civil engineering students have access to a rich and diverse bank of textual and graphical knowledge concerning their chosen profession. However, over a number of decades, commentators have raised concerns that our students have insufficient understanding of the role of civil engineering in society. Indeed, the call for universities to educate ‘global engineers’ emphasizes the need for our students to be schooled in the humanities, in parallel with their core computational studies. Unfortunately, engineering students in particular, are not accustomed to regular exploratory reading.


Please see the link below for a full account of this case study.

11 (11%) students considered the publication of some use towards their studies.

70 (69%) students considered the magazine to offer good use towards their studies.

9 (9%) regarded it to be of excellent use in assisting their learning.

I think the most important feature of the magazine, which differs from hardcore engineering magazines like New Civil Engineer or The Structural Engineer, is that it focuses [sic] on the social side of things. Recalling from a recent issue on the Three-Gorges Dam, the journalist wrote a very decent article on how the dam has shaped the way of life of the locals forever. (Third-year student)

I stopped it due to not getting through them each month, so I have a huge backlog to read now. I found that they covered a great range of articles, and do remember it covering articles related to Civil Engineering, especially the boom in construction in Dubai. Perhaps now that I am on this course, if I went back then I would find more relevant content. (Third-year student)

Lessons Learnt

The use of National Geographic or similar “soft” publications (i.e New Scientist) can assist students to consider a wealth of global issues related to their studies.

Using hard copies of these publications (your own copies / 2nd hand etc) appears to work better than relying on electronic access. However, National Geographic is picture laden (and pictures constitute and convey  a visual narrative of the story) and the ability to zoom in / out of a photograph is one advantage if students access articles on  a tablet.


Most engineering students tend to associate reading with their school studies in English. One student complained that he found one copy of National Geographic that focused solely on elephants and that it had no relevance to his studies! The students awareness of  practice related to Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) was negligible so I was able to direct him to further resources including a programme that I have recorded on the University Planet eStream system (below). Thus, the use of National Geographic can act a springboard to introduce students to more traditional scholarly research. In this case, the problems and solutions related to road building in Africa.

Glista DJ  DeVault T L and DeWoody J A (2003) A review of mitigation measures for reducing wildlife mortality on roadways, Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning, 91 (1):1-7 (accessed 10/07/2014)

Shared Planet (Overland Migration BBC Radio 4,


This case study constituted an exploratory pilot study involving 1st and 3rd year students (N=101) and was not included within a portfolio of formative or summative assessment exercises. The published paper and copies of National Geographic have been used with new 1st year students  over the past two years to encourage students to explore more generic reading above that of  the titles on the module reading lists. These tend to encourage students to engage in surface-learning vis-a-vis rote learning.

Suggestions for Transferability

The use of National Geographic and similar magazines ( e.g New Scientist) can provide tutors in all disciplines with a means to link theory to context.

UG /PG dissertations- students could undertake a thematic / content analysis related to their discipline (i.e environmental issues; corporate social responsibility; anthropological issues etc).

Focus Groups- students issued with articles related to different themes (i.e the impact of dams on the natural environment and humans) with short presentations given by each group to disseminate learning.


Murray M and Ross S (2014) National Geographic: understand civil engineering differently, Proceedings of the ICE-Engineering Sustainability, 167 (2):76–87


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