Teaching Philosophy

Teaching the necessary skills to foster a career in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry is a challenging task. Each new building project presents its own unique and complex set of variables and most of the required occupational skills cannot be taught in a classroom. In fact, it would be impossible to teach students every aspect of construction management or the design process in a four year degree program. So what is the value of higher education in the AEC industry you ask?? I believe as an educator, the most valuable lessons I can provide are: the ability to learn independently, the ability to communicate and work with others, and the ability to think critically.

How to Learn

Before college, we spoon-feed students. We pump them full of the necessary facts to regurgitate the information, score well on the exam and make the necessary marks on standardized tests to get into college. But once here, the style of learning must change and evolve. We must still test them on the important concepts. But beyond that, the most valuable skill they will take with them into adulthood is the ability to continually learn and teach themselves. For me, it was a skill I learned in graduate school when the spoon-feeding finally subsided. But I believe it is something that must be taught at the undergraduate level as well. I want my students to understand how to ask questions and how to look for the answers themselves. It is my role as an educator to guide them in the right direction, but it is much more rewarding for them to find the solutions to problems on their own.

In my teaching experiences, I have used a variety of methods to achieve this goal. The first is through encouraging research. There is something very gratifying about discovering a problem and conceptually working through the solution. But more importantly, students are more responsive to things that interest them. So it is critical that they be given the opportunity to choose their own topics and have a voice in what they want to learn. In every course that I have taught, I have included one research component whether it is a formal paper or a research project. What is important is that the student work individually and that they be given control of their education. Other methods used to facilitate learning independently include application of fundamental concepts. Students do not learn from merely reading textbooks, especially in design and construction. They have to able to apply what they are taught to real-world contexts. Therefore, case studies, simulating real world construction problems and allowing design students to work with real clients are some very valuable tools that can be used in the classroom to foster this skill.

How to Communicate

Buildings are a representation of the collaborative knowledge of many individuals. No project is completed by one individual. Therefore, it is critical that we teach students collaborative skills like listening, delegation, time-management, presentation and communication, and collective problem-solving. Whether in design or construction, they will have to work with others in their future careers. Even more important to our industry is the ability to collaborate with stakeholders from different disciplines. Therefore, students must learn the communication skills to convey what they are thinking to others as well as develop sensitivity to the challenges others face in their jobs. I believe these skills can only be achieved through group work, preferably at the cross-disciplinary level. Most of my experience teaching construction and design has been with courses related to BIM and construction documentation. I think courses in this area lend themselves greatly to interdisciplinary collaboration.

Allowing students with construction and civil engineering backgrounds to work with real estate majors, architecture students, and electrical and mechanical engineering students encourages them to learn from one another and gain the skills needed to be good construction managers and better designers. I have attempted this cross-disciplinary collaboration in many of the industry seminars I have taught on BIM and found it to be very helpful. Creating a group project which allows each future stakeholder to participate in their part of the problem and communicate using the model is a wonderful way to learn and grow in the classroom while still providing fundamental skills needed for a future career in design or construction.

How to Think

Lastly, critical thinking is an essential part of our industry. It is important that students be able to think independently as well work through problems collectively with others. Therefore, I feel examination and individual mastery of certain skillsets is still an important part of design and construction education curriculum. There must be a component in all coursework which tests individual knowledge. Additionally, students must master the skills to dissect a problem and conceptualize a methodology for working through the solution.

One of the greatest challenges I have had to work through in teaching in this field is the possibility for subjectivity in grading. I think it is critical that when designing assignments and exams, it be clearly stated what information must be provided and in what format. What I struggled most with as a student was sometimes interpreting what my professors were asking of me. Therefore, I strive to never be convoluted in my directions or assignments. I believe every student that puts in the necessary effort deserves the marks to reflect that. I also believe, they should be rewarded for listening and following directions because that is a skill in life they will consistently be asked to utilize.

Teaching Methodology

Teaching higher education curriculum in the AEC industry is extremely challenging but it can also be very rewarding. Though work experience is crucial to student’s success in the design and construction fields, I believe the most valuable skills we can teach students in college are collaboration, self-education, and critical thinking within the context of their specific discipline. Those are the skills that they will take with them into adulthood and utilize day to day. I also believe education must be delivered with a sense of humor and a positive attitude. The more engaging I am, the more excited my students will be. Finally, I think it is critical that students be able to learn in new ways. Technology is a passion of mine and I truly believe through its integration into standard curriculum students can recieve the best education we have to offer to prepare them for an industry headed toward innovation.