Project Management Institute

Project Management Education

Experiential Learning through a European Study Abroad Class

Abstract

The construction industry is becoming increasingly global and the role of the project management professional now includes many front-end services, which increases the required skill set of new construction graduates (Bodapati and Kay, 1998; Choudhury, 2000; Kay, 2001). Alternative contractual delivery systems, collaborative partnerships, new management initiatives, and global product markets require students to have a broader awareness of construction methods and project management issues. Many academic disciplines outside of construction education have successfully used study abroad programs as an effective means of broadening college students' academic, personal, and professional views of the world (NASFA, 2003). Therefore, the department of Building Science at Auburn University created an experimental study abroad class for the summer of 2000 to expose students to construction-specific companies, projects, practices, and project management professionals that they would never be exposed to otherwise. The success of the 2000 class was repeated in 2002, 2004, and the next class will be conducted during the summer semester of 2005. This paper describes the design, development, and evolution of the class, along with the course objectives, structure, and outcomes.

Introduction

The construction industry is becoming increasingly global and the role of the project management professional now includes many front-end services, which increases the required skill set of new construction graduates (Bodapati and Kay, 1998; Choudhury, 2000; Kay, 2001). Alternative contractual delivery systems, collaborative partnerships, new management initiatives, and global product markets require students to have a broader awareness of construction methods and project management issues. Many academic disciplines inside and outside of construction education have successfully used study abroad programs as an effective means of broadening college students' academic, personal, and professional views of the world (NASFA, 2003; Rebholz, 2000). Therefore, the department of Building Science (BSCI) at Auburn University created an experimental study abroad class for the summer of 2000. This initial class was financially supported by the Dean's office through a grant and was composed of five graduate students and one professor. The success of this class led to the second study abroad class being offered during the summer of 2002. This second class was made up of six undergraduate students and one professor leading the class. However, the second class was required to breakeven with the program fees supporting the professor's expenses. Building upon the previous experience of the first two classes, the department of Building Science is again offering a study abroad class for the summer of 2004 and hopes to offer the class on an annual basis. The 2004 class consists of 10 undergraduate students, 1 graduate student, 1 lead professor and 1 professor-in-training. This paper describes the design, development, and evolution of a faculty-led traveling study abroad class that was created to expose students to international construction practices and construction-related issues from outside the United States. The course history, rationale, structure, and outcomes will be discussed.

Summer 2000 Class

Background and Learning Objectives

In 1999, two Building Science faculty members, Patricia Lindsey and Rebecca Burleson, submitted a successful grant application to the College of Architecture, Design and Construction at Auburn University to create a pilot study abroad class consisting of five (5) graduate students and one (1) faculty member. The grant covered all of the faculty member's travel expenses and summer salary plus ½ of each student's travel costs of $6,000. Based on the success of the school of Architecture's 30-year history of traveling with students throughout Europe during the spring term, the department of Building Science proposed a similar faculty-led traveling study abroad class. However, the Building Science class would take place during the summer semester of 2000 rather than in the spring. This initial class actually consisted of two separate 3-credit courses, a preparation (prep) class and a special topics (elective) class. The first class, BSC 680d, was a study abroad prep class that the students were required to take during the spring term of 2000. The learning objectives are listed below:

  • To work as a group to complete the travel itinerary and specific learning objectives associated with each experience included in the construction study abroad trip.
  • To assist students in their preparation for European travel including foreign communications, currency exchange issues, travel and safety tips, passport, flight and hotel accommodations, etc.
  • To prepare individual student presentations related to specific sites and events included in the travel itinerary.
  • To develop and set up the communication system between the students traveling on the trip and students still at Auburn University.

Unlike the school of Architecture's study abroad class, which has a multi-city European itinerary pre-selected by Architecture faculty members, the Building Science students developed their own itinerary during the prep class under the faculty guidance of Patricia Lindsey. Europe was selected as the region of study and a tentative outline of six (6) cities was created. Once the final itinerary was set, the prep class lectures focused on language, culture, riding the metro, changing money, hotel locations, train transportation, and other traveling skills.

The second class, BSC 680e, was the actual traveling study abroad portion, which took place during the summer of 2000. The class make-up consisted of the instructor, Assistant Professor Patricia Lindsey, 4 Building Science graduate students, and 1 graduate student/instructor-in-training Scott Kramer. The itinerary included spending 1 week each in 6 European cities and 2 weeks of free travel (see Exhibit 1).

Travel Itinerary with Class Visits and Cultural Events, Summer 2000

Exhibit 1 - Travel Itinerary with Class Visits and Cultural Events, Summer 2000

Outcomes and Assessment

The requirements for the 2000 class are shown in Exhibit 2.

Syllabus for BSC 680e, Summer 2000

Exhibit 2 - Syllabus for BSC 680e, Summer 2000

Each student kept a travel journal during the class, which was graded by the instructor while everyone was in Europe. Also, each student completed a written assessment of each class visit or event attended during the summer. This assessment was part of the grant requirements set forth by the College and would provide valuable feedback for: evaluating the class, consideration of continuing the study abroad program, and future class itineraries, structure, region chosen, and type of visits. Based on positive assessment from the 2000 class, the department of Building Science decided to continue the study abroad class and offer it every other summer if students showed interest.

Summer 2002 Class

Background and Learning Objectives

Because of the success of the Summer 2000 class and extensive marketing efforts by Associate Professor Scott Kramer, many students were interested in participating in another study abroad class for the summer of 2002. However, this time the study abroad class was offered as an alternative senior capstone project to undergraduate students and involved analyzing, synthesizing, and reporting on information collected during a 5-week traveling portion of the class. The study abroad class was offered to all upper level undergraduate students at the end of fall semester 2001. The 2002 study abroad class actually consisted of two separate required Building Science classes. One was an alternative senior capstone class and the other was the Contracting Business class. By offering these two courses together, the senior students could graduate 1 semester early and complete their required senior capstone project during the 10-week summer semester, rather than the following fall semester as the curriculum dictated. This option made the class attractive from not only an educational standpoint, but from a financial one as well, since students were paying the $6,000 study abroad program cost in addition to Auburn University tuition. Six students participated in the 2002 class, five seniors and 1 junior, plus Associate Professor Scott Kramer. The junior student only participated in the Contracting Business class for course credit and completed the regular senior capstone class the following summer term.

Like the 2000 pilot class, the overall goal of the 2002 class was to expose students to construction-specific companies, projects, practices, and project management professionals that they would never be exposed to otherwise. There were three construction-related visits per city (e.g. construction projects, material suppliers, construction firms, equipment manufacturers, etc.). Students visited with construction professionals and collected data from 5 of the top 10 international construction firms (ENR, 2002). Some of the other visits included: marble quarries in Carrara, concrete pump manufacturers in southern Germany, renovation of the U.S. embassy in Rome, renovation of the War Cabinet Rooms in London, and the construction of a new development in Copenhagen. Also, there was one cultural event per city (e.g. ballet, opera, concert, musical, etc.).

In addition to the 5-week traveling portion of the 2002 class, all of the students were required to participate in a 1-hr. study abroad prep class offered during spring semester 2002. The prep class was again designed to be interactive on many levels. The students participated in developing the course itinerary for the summer and selected their capstone research topics to compliment the scheduled events in each of the cities visited. During the course itinerary phase, students were responsible for contacting the construction firms, material suppliers, and equipment manufacturers in cities that supported their research topics. Through this process, the itinerary was continuously revised to include construction visits that the students arranged (see Exhibit 3). Students were directly responsible for visits to Skanska's London office, Bovis projects in London, the U.S. Embassy renovation project in Rome, the historic church renovation in Venice, GPS mapping and construction in Venice, the Sony Center visit in Berlin, and the visit to Schwing in Memmingen. The professor in charge of the class helped the students arrange other construction-related visits in addition to arranging the cultural events for each city.

Travel Itinerary with Class Visits and Cultural Events, Summer 2002

Exhibit 3 - Travel Itinerary with Class Visits and Cultural Events, Summer 2002

A high priority was placed on relating the students' research topics with the study abroad construction visits. This enabled the students to collect data for their capstone class research topics (e.g. concrete placement methods & equipment, project delivery methods, and immigrant labor) as part of the activity. The students collected original source documents (e.g. transcribed interviews with key executives, photos, company brochures, company training material, videos of visits, etc.) during the 5-week traveling half of the 10-week summer semester. After returning from Europe, the second 5 weeks of the semester was dedicated to developing and completing the written capstone projects.

Outcomes and Assessment

Students were required to write an original research paper, using the ASC Journal style guidelines (ASC, 2003), in the range of 40 – 60 pages excluding copies of original source documents, appendices, and references. In addition, the students were required to create a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that would be presented and defended to a jury of Building Science faculty. The student's grade was based 75% on the written paper and 25% on the PowerPoint presentation. All five students completed their senior capstone projects by the end of the summer semester 2002. Student capstone project titles were:

  • The Past, the Present and the Future: An In-depth Analysis of the Progression of Construction Project Delivery
  • Project Delivery Methods: A Detailed Analysis of the Public-Private Partnerships, BOT and PFI
  • Concrete: History, Placing Equipment and Methods
  • Concrete Placement in the United States vs. Europe
  • Immigrant and Foreign Construction Workers: A look at the United States vs. Europe

All the students responded positively to the study abroad experience and thought that the class met their expectations, both academically and personally. Immediately after graduating in the summer of 2002, two of the students used their study abroad knowledge concerning concrete pumps by explaining the capabilities of stationary and truck-mounted pumps to senior personnel in their respective companies. Also, as a result of the study abroad experience, two of the six participating students are planning careers in international construction. All of the students that participated in the study abroad class are very enthusiastic about the continuation of the program and are actively marketing the study abroad program to students currently in the Building Science program.

Summer 2004 Class

Using a Web-based Travelogue During the Study Abroad Class

Due to the terrorist attacks on 9-11-2001 and the later cooling of attitudes and relations between the US and Europe, family members and friends were concerned about staying in touch and tracking the groups' travel abroad during the 2004 summer semester . While email is an important way of staying in touch, it does not offer a shared discussion environment that would serve as a travel log desirable for this group trip. After exploring the popular communication options of web blogs, travel blogs, newsgroups and Wikis, a WebCT™ (WebCT, 2004) site was developed instead.

There were several good reasons for selecting WebCT™. Faculty members wanted a stable and easy to use platform to record the events of the trip with minimum training time. WebCT™ is the adopted course delivery software on the Auburn campus. It is housed on a reliable server, backed up frequently and maintained in the highly secure digital environment of a major research university. This is not true of the more open, public and more vulnerable alternatives mentioned above. For the Building Science study abroad class, there was no cost since Auburn University has a site license and uses it with other university classes. The user interface is well organized and has an intuitive format, with which students and faculty are already familiar. The study abroad website was set up to be open to any user who self registers, but only the professors have access to the web page design features. The features used in this class included: trip itinerary page including a map of the trip, resources page, discussion groups, email, Temporary Structures class page, and an images database or photo library. Students were encouraged to invite their friends, family members, classmates and other teachers to register for the online course and track the journey through Europe. These visitors became virtual travelers, able to interact with the group via email and discussion features of the website. Registration made site participants known to everyone, providing a desired degree of security for travelers. The environment of the WebCT™ site, compared with a blog or Wiki site provided desired degree of control over appearance and content while allowing open interaction among registered participants.

Perhaps the most meaningful use of the course software was the virtual travel log created using the discussion forum in WebCT™. Students were assigned the task of posting a thoughtful and substantive reflection of some aspect of their visit to each city. They were also required to post a response to a classmate's posting for each city. These reflections were accompanied by images uploaded and attached to the discussion posting. This would provide for an online exchange of concepts learned among faculty and students while traveling, which was shared with others back home (Exhibit 4). A number of registered guests frequented the site during the study abroad class, posting questions and responses to the student reflections. One such guest, the father of a study abroad student visited the site over a hundred times during the five week tour, leaving comments and questions for the group and registering a record 952 hits on the site (Exhibit 4). A more passive observer was the fiancé of a student who followed the progress of her future husband on a daily basis and registering the third highest 556 hits. Students came to enjoy the reflection exercises, and the attached photos added valuable visual excitement for the participants back home.

WebCT™ Summary Access Information

Exhibit 4. WebCT™ Summary Access Information

While traveling in Europe the group shot thousands of images using digital cameras. The images were uploaded via USB cable from cameras, or from CD-ROMs, floppy disks, or USB storage media directly into WebCT™. These images were attached to email or became the catalyst for threaded discussions among students, parents, alumni, and friends. Each student was also able to post images and text documents used later as references for their individual research project. At the start of the trip, the Building Science department supplied five notebook computers, each shared by two students. These computers were used for storage of digital images, for composing reflection statements, and for recording travel and contact information (Exhibit 5).

WebCT™ Discussion Forum Construction Observation

Exhibit 5. WebCT™ Discussion Forum Construction Observation

Publicizing and marketing future Building Science Study Abroad classes will be made easier with the self-documenting features of the WebCT™ Travelogue. Prospective students and their parents can see photos, threaded discussions, and the itinerary of the 2004 class by viewing it as a link from the main Building Science web page at www.bsci.auburn.edu.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The overall goal of each class is to expose students to companies, projects, practices, and project management professionals that they would never be exposed to otherwise. Another major goal of each class is to expand the students' academic, professional, and personal views of the world from regional to global. Additional course learning objectives included:

  • Exposure to different construction methods, materials and equipment;
  • Professional project management practices in international construction;
  • The unique aspects of historic preservation and restoration projects;
  • Understanding project delivery methods used in global projects;
  • View world-class performing arts and fine arts;
  • Issues relating to construction craft labor and immigrant labor;
  • View monumental and historical architecture;
  • Experience different cultures, currencies, transportation systems and languages.

The Building Science faculty is firmly convinced that study abroad courses add tremendous value to the educational experience of not only the students who participated, but to our entire construction program in general. Interaction with the participating students after they returned to Auburn stimulated even more interest among students and faculty members each time. Prospective students and their parents are even asking about the details of the study abroad class when making campus visits. Studying abroad is an invaluable experience – for many students, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in a foreign country, to experience its customs and culture, and to adapt to new surroundings (Study Abroad, 2003). Traveling through Europe introduces students to new environments and knowledge that can best be gained from experiential learning. The successes gained through these experiences both equip and prepare students to thrive in a global world.

References

ASC (2003), Associated Schools of Construction, Retrieved November 1, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.ascweb.org

Auburn University (2002), Enrollment/Student Characteristics, Retrieved November 1, 2002, from the World Wide Web: http://www.auburn.edu

Bodapati, N & Kay, D (1998), International Construction Employment: Challenges and Opportunities For Construction Graduates, International Proceedings of the Associated Schools of Construction, 145-154, April 15 - 18, 1998, Central Connecticut State University - New Britain, Connecticut

Choudhury, I (2000), Cross-cultural Training of Project Personnel for Implementation of International Construction Projects by US Contractors, [On Line] International Proceedings of the Associated Schools of Construction, 87-94, March 29 - April 1, 2000, Purdue University - West Lafayette, Indiana

ENR (2002), Engineering News Record: 2001 ENR Top 225 International Contractors, Retrieved May 1, 2002, from the World Wide Web: http://www.enr.com

Kay, D (2001), A Survey of the Foreign Language Preparedness of Construction Students, [On Line] International Proceedings of the Associated Schools of Construction, 21-32, April 4 - 7, 2001, University of Denver - Denver, Colorado

NASFA (2003), Association of International Educators: Study Abroad, Retrieved November 1, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.nafsa.org

Rebholz, F (2000), Teaching a Construction Course Overseas, [On Line] International Proceedings of the Associated Schools of Construction, 59-66, March 29 - April 1, 2000, Purdue University - West Lafayette, Indiana

Sayl, M, Christofferson, J, & Bozai, G (1995), Development of Specialization in Undergraduate Curriculum through Senior Level Capstone Courses, [On Line] International Proceedings of the Associated Schools of Construction, 30-44, April 6 - 8, 1995, Arizona State University - Tempe, Arizona

Study Abroad (2003), The StudyAbroad.com Handbook, Retrieved November 1, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.studyabroad.com

WebCT (2004,), course management software or e-learning environment provided to institutions of higher learning worldwide, from the World Wide Web: http://www.webct.com

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2005, Scott W. Kramer
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Toronto

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