Construction Educators Share Lessons Learned from Remote Teaching

Construction Educators Share Lessons Learned from Remote Teaching

The abrupt and mandatory shift to remote teaching in the last few months was a true learning experience for educators around the world. For many, this was uncharted territory. According to Bloomberg, 70% of America’s 1.5 million faculty members have never taught classes online before. Additionally, 56% of faculty at US higher education institutes reported they deployed "new teaching methods" in transitioning their courses to remote delivery in a recent survey

For better or for worse, the sudden shift to remote is more than just a test run. Leading institutions such as the University of Cambridge announced that there will be no “face-to-face” lectures until the summer of 2021, and according to, “most of the UK’s top academic universities are planning for a “hybrid” form of online and face-to-face teaching next year.” Even beyond the next academic year, online teaching is here to stay and will become core to the foundation of higher education programmes around the world. 

Recently, we asked educators at top construction education programmes across Europe and the US about their experiences shifting to remote teaching. How did they manage to adapt their coursework online and what key lessons did they learn? Below, find out how these dedicated educators are embracing change and preparing the next generation of construction professionals for success.

How did you adjust your teaching strategy once stay at home orders were announced? What were the biggest challenges?

Henry Abanda-Photo“When the stay-at-home orders were announced, my teaching strategy took into account the immediate challenges in order to better serve my students. My first strategy was to establish an inventory of tools that can be used in delivering lectures in the midst of the circumstances. These included Moodle (what I had been using prior to COVID-19 pandemic), Google Meet, Google Hangout, Skype, and Zoom. Furthermore, I had to choose tools that were easy to use and engaging, especially with face-to-face-interaction and tracked or monitored students’ participation. I decided to go for Moodle, Zoom, and BIM 360. Moodle is good at tracking students who download learning materials but lacks face-to-face interaction. Zoom was chosen to deliver lectures as it offered face-to-face interaction with students, a “near-to-class” condition or feeling. Given my lectures require project design, I chose BIM 360 which allowed students to upload their models. It’s also good for me as I can easily view the models without having to install the native software. The beauty of using BIM 360 is that students had to learn software that’s highly relevant in the construction industry.” - Dr. Henry Abanda, Senior Lecturer, Oxford Brookes University

Jeff Kim Auburn“I instruct our program’s capstone course and part of this course requires that the students complete a full BIM, estimate, and schedule for their selected projects. One of the challenges with the social distancing restrictions was the displacement of the students from the computer labs on campus. Acting quickly, we set up students (over 50) with access to download a suite of Autodesk products (Revit, Navisworks, and plugins for Assemble) so that they could complete their projects while at home or in their apartments.

Lastly, we are planning to use BIM 360 to share the models that the students create. Sending these large files for grading has been problematic along with coordinating multiple Revit versions – with BIM 360 we hope to overcome these issues and it’s easier for some faculty that are not as well versed in BIM software. Since the students had access to the educational versions of the software, we were successful in maintaining the scope of the capstone program and successfully graduated the students into the workforce.” - Jeff Kim, Assistant Professor, Auburn University

Frances Robertson"Many UK higher education institutes (HEIs) communicate with students using email and virtual learning environments (VLEs), but teaching remotely is not the norm. Adapting within a week to remote teaching entailed the recommissioning of current available hardware and software to devise effective teaching mechanisms: the epitome of being creative within constraints! It was disconcerting for staff and students to adapt to new ways of working and communicating almost overnight, but this was made easier by our students being psychologically safe in experimenting with new digital tools and technologies.

An expert staff group was mobilised to help colleagues to use our VLE digital collaboration tool. Communication with students was through an increase in use of email, phone calls, and remote teaching using this as a teaching tool. Its efficacy relied on students and staff having the necessary hardware and Wi-Fi connection and, of course, this varied. Overcoming some challenges is a work-in-progress." - Frances Robertson, Senior Lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University 

Gordon B & W - Reduced"Our B.Sc. Courses have been set up with BIM 360 for the last three years. Given this, I already had most of my modules set up on BIM 360. This has allowed an easy transformation to digital portfolios where the students “Published” folder becomes their end of semester portfolio that can be accessed by staff and external examiners. The main difference was that I got to use more functionality of BIM 360 such as markups which I did both on my own and with the students using Microsoft Teams screen share. The biggest challenge was student engagement. Maintaining engagement in a remote environment will be the biggest challenge going forward." - Gordon Chisholm, Lecturer, Waterford Institute of Technology

What tools and technology have helped you engage with students most successfully in a remote learning environment?

Geoff Olner"The educational copies of all Autodesk software continues to be fundamental to providing remote delivery of our course programmes. BIM 360 has been introduced to our students at Level 5 (Year 2) for several years in Semester 2. The lockdown came just after the basic introduction and whilst was continued to be developed remotely, it only had limited use during the replacement delivery. However, this has focused a review for next year to introduce this in Semester 1 next year. For students confident to utilize BIM 360, the use of mark-ups by tutors and the introduction to Issues fully utilizes the facility offered by BIM 360 and is being reviewed to expand to a wider tutor usage next year." - Geoff Olner, Senior Lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University 

michael mcGuire New College Lanarkshire“We have made use of a wide variety of software to gauge which is more successful in satisfying the various learning styles of our students. These include Camtasia Studio, Youtube, and our own Online Learning environment. We also use Moodle to present recorded lessons in all of the various Autodesk applications such as Revit, AutoCAD, Inventor, etc. However, my students with a focus on digital collaboration have been mostly using BIM 360 at home. BIM 360 has allowed us to easily continue to collaborate even while working at a distance from one another.” - Michael McGuire, Lecturer, New College Lanarkshire

mark shelbourne birmingham"Much of the learning and communication has centred on Microsoft Teams. In certain modules across Built Environment courses at Birmingham City University, BIM 360, Navisworks, and Revit continue to play an important part of the tools to help move to teach and learning ‘online.’ Setting up projects in industry-standard tools to manage group projects, provide formative feedback, and manage student communication, has been much more convenient than virtual learning environments. Exposing students to industry-standard software and environments is a win-win for all–especially when they are going to be engaging with them on graduation."- Dr. Mark Shelbourn, Centre Lead for Built Environment & Associate Professor, Birmingham City University  

What lessons have you learned about teaching students remotely?

“Do not make assumptions about the digital literacy levels of your students; every student needs a safe space to experiment in so be sure to give opportunities for students to practice with all tools that you intend to use for assessment before it actually matters.” - Dr. Avril Behan, Dean of College of Engineering & Built Environment, Technical University Dublin

noha sabeeb“The top lesson learnt about teaching students remotely was the absolute need to find different methods to engage them and keep their interest at all times so as not to lose their interest and focus online which can happen easier than face-to-face. Hence, it was essential to diversify the mode of delivery every 20-30 minutes with different engagement activities, tones, group dynamics, etc. They also needed to feel ownership of the medium, as if it were their own physical area, hence it was essential to introduce aspects to the environment that will encourage familiarity, loyalty, and warmth to the medium, e.g. co-design the interface, or leave familiar artifacts inside there between sessions.” - Dr. Noha Saleeb, Associate Professor in Creative Technologies & Construction, Middlesex University 

adamu zulfikar london southbank“I’ve learned four key lessons about remote teaching: 

  1. Remote teaching and learning is possible IF we have the will and are willing to be creative/improvise;
  2. Change in mindset is required for successful remote teaching/learning; 
  3. Adequate planning - you cannot just ask a QS staff who is used to granular marking/feedback on hard copy (drawings, measurement, and take-offs) to suddenly switch to keyboard and mouse. Perhaps tablet-style PCs with a stylus will help; 
  4. We need to rethink our assessment/exam processes to suit online open-book style assessment/exams.”

- Dr. Zulfikar Adamu, Associate Professor of Strategic IT in Construction, London South Bank University

Jeff Kim Auburn“Patience is a missed commodity in the time of COVID and the students should be commended. They have been displaced from their classrooms, resources, other students, and faculty, to name a few. We have had to be open to the challenges that the pandemic has created and we have asked the same of the students. Being forthright and staying in constant communication has helped.” - Jeff Kim, Assistant Professor, Auburn University

While this is certainly a unique situation, how do you think your students will emerge stronger in their construction careers in the future?

Dixit, Manish_directory“Having seen the pandemic situation and learning about online collaboration platforms such as BIM 360, students will potentially be better prepared for construction project management through remote collaboration. This will certainly boost their career opportunities, particularly when such adverse conditions are projected to increase in the future.” - Manish Dixit, Assistant Professor, Department of Construction Science, Texas A&M University 

“I think students will have additional confidence in their ability to work remotely and independently, but also to contribute meaningfully as part of a remote team. I also believe that the students will have gained additional resilience, which is essential for coping with the cyclical nature of some elements of construction-related careers. Hopefully also, the industry will embrace more remote working which will reduce travel times, provide better work-life balance, and, potentially, make the industry more attractive to a more diverse range of learners and a better place for long-term, family-friendly careers.” - Dr. Avril Behan, Dean of College of Engineering & Built Environment, Technical University Dublin

adamu zulfikar london southbank“I think students will emerge stronger if they appreciate how the level of digital transformation in their universities and workplaces can make or mar their learning or work experiences respectively.” - Dr. Zulfikar Adamu, Associate Professor of Strategic IT in Construction, London South Bank University

Henry Abanda-Photo“The construction industry is one of the least digitized sectors. Using digital technologies will enhance their digital skills, highly required to improve the performance of the construction industry. The engagement of students through the use of these tools also enhances other softer skills, such as collaboration, presentation, and management or chairing of meetings.” - Dr. Henry Abanda, Senior Lecturer, Oxford Brookes University

Geoff Olner“Students on placements have already reported that whilst working remotely from their architectural practice, they feel no more isolated utilizing BIM 360 and various Zoom meetings whilst working from home. In fact, they are able to engage to a greater extent being able to sit in on meetings that they would previously not been able to attend owing to travel. Remote meetings and use of BIM 360 have significantly enhanced our students understanding of current practice within the industry prior to the pandemic that the architectural practice is still having to come to terms with. This is putting our students at an advantage in the workplace.” - Geoff Olner, Senior Lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University 

Gordon B & W - Reduced“Students are being exposed to working remotely and collaboratively with industry-leading tools and developing the skills which are and will continue to be in demand. On a recent site visit with BAM, the students were delighted to see that what they are learning in class with BIM 360 and Teams, are implementing on site. Linking with industry is key to engaging the students with their profession.” - Gordon Chisholm, Lecturer, Waterford Institute of Technology

How do you think COVID-19’s impact will shift education in the future?

Frances Robertson“Despite the challenges, this is a welcome change process towards the alignment of HEIs to future digital practice. A paradigm shift in education is best facilitated in collaboration with industry digital tool developers and AECO sector exemplars. We now aim to push forward with blended-learning/teaching using digital tools and technologies, applying the BIM 360 platform in and across modules whilst working within the quality/security restrictions of teaching, learning, and assessment. Ultimately, this is on-going action research and a ‘DevOps‘ approach to invoking digital evolutionary change. The pastoral support of students and encouraging them to engage need to be factored into any programme for change, being pivotal to the optimisation of success in learning. Digital tools and technologies might also enhance engagement for this generation of learners.” - Frances Robertson, Senior Lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University 

noha sabeeb“This crisis and dealing with its challenges has opened the door to providing many practical-based courses that would normally be only taught face-to-face to be taught remotely, hence allowing the opportunity for international and remote students to benefit from joining these courses and gaining the same experience and learning skills if they are unable to attend the course in person, or if they are work-based. I believe that with this new possible online mode of delivery, many courses can now adopt high-level pedagogical theories, which we have personally started incorporating in our virtual delivery already like constructivism, deep learning, effectual virtual teaching, flipped classrooms, and others which facilitate the development of students’ cognitive skillsets.” - Dr. Noha Saleeb, Associate Professor in Creative Technologies & Construction, Middlesex University 

mark shelbourne birmingham"For many, this has been a great opportunity to experiment further in a blended learning approach. For BCU, many staff have been practicing this approach for a number of years, and COVID-19 has meant an acceleration in implementing plans to move to this approach. Our learners understand the complexities of the situation and have been understanding and patient in moving to this approach. 

Moving forward using BIM 360 as a collaborative platform will, in my opinion, have to be the cornerstone of any blended learning approach. The flexibility of being able to set up spaces for problem-based learning and collaboration using BIM 360 will be the norm rather than the exception moving forward. It is important that we (BCU) provide our learners with the tools that they expect to work on and with from day one of their studies.” - Dr. Mark Shelbourn, Centre Lead for Built Environment & Associate Professor, Birmingham City University 

Philipp Mueller

Autodesk Education Experiences- Program Mgr. AEC EMEA