Teaching project management through experiential learning

study abroad classes are not just for foreign languages

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 & 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 and the next class will be conducted during the summer semester of 2004. 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 & 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 break-even 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 travelling 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 students’ travel costs of $6,000. Based on the success of the school of Architecture's 30-year history of travelling with students throughout Europe during the spring term, the department of Building Science proposed a similar faculty-led travelling 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 travelling 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 travelling skills.

The second class, BSC 680e, was the actual travelling 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. However, future classes must develop a break-even budget to pay for student expenses and faculty expenses since future grants from the College were not expected.

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 travelling 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 travelling 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 and equipment, project delivery methods, and immigrant labour) 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 travelling 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.

Spring 2004 Global Project Management

Class Background and Learning Objectives

BSCI 7100 – Global Project Management was offered as a graduate elective class during the spring semester of 2004. The class has been offered every year, for the past five years, and is taught by Associate Professor Scott Kramer. The overall class learning objectives are generally broad, but are typically tailored to meet students’ specific expectations or interests once the class begins. The overall learning objectives are:

  • To understand project management issues dealing with global construction firms.
  • To understand the means and methods of historical preservation and restoration of buildings.
  • To understand contractual delivery systems used outside the United States.
  • Analyze case studies dealing with the design and construction of international projects.

Because of the small number of graduate students (five) in the Building Science program for the 2003-2004 academic year, a special situation arose in that only two students chose BSCI 7100 as one of their BSCI electives. However, this small class size afforded great opportunity for international travel which has not been a part of the class in previous years. After deciding on their class research topics: (1) Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and (2) the Quantity Surveying Profession, the students proposed that we not only visit international construction firms located in the southeast through class field trips, but undertake an international research-based field trip to Europe.

Cost is typically a strong barrier to taking field trips that last more than one day because of lodging, transportation, and meal expenses. However, transatlantic flights from the U.S. to Europe during the winter months of January and February offer extreme bargains. The students and professor each purchased a round trip flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Paris for $318, taxes and fees included. The same ticket during the summer months is typically $850 to $1,200. Even on a university student's budget, the total cost of such a 9-day field trip was possible. Furthermore, the BSCI department awarded each of the two graduate students a $500 travel grant to defray expenses. The itinerary included four nights in Paris to visit historical architecture, construction projects, and attend a ballet at the Opera Garnier. After arriving in London on the Eurostar train, the next four days of research was spent visiting: Davis Langdon Everest (Quantity Surveying firm), Bovis Construction (renovating the H.M. Treasury Building), and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Other London visits included the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the British Library. The class returned to Paris on the Eurostar for one last day in Paris and then departed for Atlanta the next day. Not only did the two students obtain invaluable source documents on PFI and Quantity Surveying, their perception of the world drastically changed from regional to global.

Summer 2004 Class

Background and Learning Objectives

Since 9/11/01, Auburn University requirements for studying and travelling outside the United States have been re-evaluated and new procedures have been implemented by the university's Office of International Education (OIE). In an effort to promote study abroad classes at the Auburn campus, new guidelines concerning study abroad program costs have allowed the Building Science study abroad class to be much more attractive on a financial basis. Effective 1/1/04, Auburn University students DO NOT have to pay university tuition in addition to the study abroad program costs, if the students are already paying for the instructor's travel expenses and salary. The students are required to pay only the $365 OIE study abroad fee, in addition to the program costs. This information was communicated to the Building Science students by email and individual class presentations. This new policy helps defray the cost of the class for in-state students, but almost makes the cost of the study abroad class equal to staying in Auburn for out-of-state students. The results of this effort produced an enrolment of 10 undergraduate students, 1 graduate student, 1 instructor-in-charge (Scott Kramer), and 1-instructor-in-training (Michael Hein) for the Summer 2004 class.

The 2004 class will again offer an alternative senior capstone option (BSCI 4980) in addition to BSCI 4400 – Temporary Structures class. Similar to the 2002 course design, students are required to enrol in a 2-hr. prep class spring semester 2003. Under faculty guidance, the students determined the class itinerary based on their research topics for their individual capstone projects and include the following cities:

  • London
  • Rome/Venice
  • Munich
  • Prague
  • Berlin
  • Copenhagen
  • Paris

Again, the students will be required to write an original research paper, create a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation and defend both to a jury of Building Science faculty. However, unlike the 2002 class, students will not be able to graduate earlier than their original plan of study graduation date.

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. The typical undergraduate student (Auburn, 2002) in the Building Science program is:

  • White, male and from the southeast region of the United States,
  • 10% of students are female,
  • less than 3 % are minorities or international students,
  • Protestant,
  • public school educated and from small, rural towns in Georgia and Alabama,
  • 67% of the university's students are from the state of Alabama

Therefore, 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 labour and immigrant labour,
  • 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.

The primary concerns in establishing this type of class are:

  • Determining when prerequisite courses are to be taught and which courses can be taught concurrent with the study abroad class,
  • Establishing contacts with construction professionals in the region of travel,
  • Coordinating students’ capstone research topics with scheduled visits,
  • Developing an accurate budget prior to the trip so the students pay the appropriate amount for the trip,
  • Coordinate with University administration concerning fees, tuition, medical insurance, visas, liability, course credit, etc.

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). Travelling 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, April), 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, March - April), 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, April), 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, March-April), 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, April), 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

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.

© 2004, Scott W. Kramer
Originally published as a part of 2004 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Prague

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