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Unit of study_

CIVL3411: Geotechnical Engineering

The objectives of this unit are to provide an understanding of the factors influencing soil strength, and to give practice in the application of this understanding by exploring the stability of slopes, retaining walls and foundations. At the end of this unit students will be able to: determine the strength parameters appropriate to a range of stability problems, and understand the difference between total and effective stress approaches; evaluate strength parameters from laboratory data; critically analyse foundation stability and slope stability problems; use spreadsheets to perform parametric studies and produce design charts for simple geotechnical design problems; and communicate the results of experiments and analyses using written methods appropriate for professional geotechnical engineers. The syllabus comprises; methods of analysis for gravity and sheet pile retaining walls; reinforced soil; slope stability, including modes of failure, analysis and computer methods; bearing capacity of shallow foundations under general loading, and axial and lateral capacities of deep pile foundations; the mechanical behaviour of sands and clays; and Critical State models.


Academic unit Civil Engineering
Unit code CIVL3411
Unit name Geotechnical Engineering
Session, year
Semester 2, 2022
Attendance mode Normal day
Location Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney
Credit points 6

Enrolment rules

Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff and contact details

Coordinator Francois Guillard,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Creative assessment / demonstration Final oral exam
30 minute preparation followed by 15 minute oral exam, staggered times
40% Formal exam period 30 min preparation, 15 min presentation
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO4 LO3 LO2
Online task Quiz
Online quiz on Canvas
20% Week 05 1.5h
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO2
Assignment Assignment 1
Report on slope stability risk globally and on an individual slope.
25% Week 09
Due date: 09 Oct 2022 at 23:59
10p report + source code
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Assignment Assignment 2
Authentic problems of retaining wall and foundations.
15% Week 12
Due date: 30 Oct 2022 at 23:59
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO5

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100



75 - 84



65 - 74



50 - 64



0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Special consideration

If you experience short-term circumstances beyond your control, such as illness, injury or misadventure or if you have essential commitments which impact your preparation or performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 1. Introduction to geotechnical engineering; 2. Stress and strain Lecture (4 hr)  
Week 02 Soil characterisation Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 03 Models of soil and rock mechanics Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO2 LO5
Week 04 1. Models of soil mechanics 2. Slope stability: introduction Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO3
Week 05 Slope stability: limit equilibrium Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO3
Week 06 Slope stability: rock-slope Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO3 LO4
Week 07 Retaining walls: introduction, limit equilibrium Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO3
Week 08 Retaining walls: Rankine’s method Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO3
Week 09 Foundations: bound theories/solutions Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO3
Week 10 Foundations: general bearing capacity formulations and formulae Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO1 LO3 LO4
Week 11 1. Other bearing capacity applications; 2. Critical settlements Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO3 LO4 LO5
Week 12 Foundations: bearing capacity of piles Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO3 LO4
Week 13 Conclusion of the course, summary and revisions. Lecture and tutorial (6 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University’s graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. communicate the results of analyses using written and visual methods appropriate for professional geotechnical engineers
  • LO2. explain the effects of void-ratio, pressure, friction, and dilation on the strength of clays and sands using models of soil-mechanics
  • LO3. critically analyse slope and retaining walls stability problems, and shallow foundation and pile stability
  • LO4. use spreadsheets to perform parametric studies and produce design charts for simple geotechnical design problems
  • LO5. determine the strength parameters appropriate to a range of stability problems, and understand the difference between total and effective stress approaches.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities
Small changes to course content based on students interest.


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