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ASC Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference
Colorado State University Fort Collins, Colorado
April 20 - 22, 2006                 


 Multiple levels of online course applications for construction curriculum


Daphene Cyr Koch and Erdogan Sener

Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI)

Indianapolis, IN


Students currently enrolled in construction programs around the world are expecting the use of technology in instruction because they have never lived without it. The federal government is mandating rules to protect students’ privacy so posting grades is becoming more defined. Industry is becoming more global, with design and construction on different continents. All of these are significant issues for construction educators. The Department of Construction Technology at IUPUI has mapped different levels of integrating online applications into their curriculum. The levels begin with the introductory applications for all content and levels of courses. The next level is a multi-model approach to utilizing the online applications as a means to enhance the course. The final level is the high tech application of digitally enhancing assignments to have all course content available online, but meet in class for hands-on labs as a hybrid undertaking. These levels have been outlined below with examples from specific courses describing experiences which can be helpful to all.


Key Words: Online, WebCT, Constructw@re, Curriculum





College students are from the generation of instant gratification. They have never lived without a microwave. Everyone has ipods, cell phones or wireless laptops. Construction education has begun to enter the online revolution. During the Associated Schools of Construction conferences, papers have been presented on introducing WebCT into a curriculum (Orth & Jenkins, 2003), an online “materials” course (Carr, 2005), and incorporating online resources into “mechanical systems” courses (Orth & Long, 2005).  One construction department has integrated tools into many courses within the overall curriculum. Based on their experiences, they now have documented examples of how the online tools can support construction education. The Department of Construction Technology at IUPUI has developed three levels of online instruction within the construction courses. The levels begin with introductory online applications, progress to support of self-learning (multi-model), and finally advance to all content being online in a hybrid course. Department faculty have integrated aspects of online-learning into their construction curriculum as a way to encourage student learning. By sharing their experiences, they hope to assist others in seeing the pros and cons of online instruction for different courses in a construction curriculum.





According to Harasim (2000), the first entirely online course was offered in 1981.  The predecessor to this was the correspondence courses taught by sending video tapes and paper exams through the U.S postal mail. As technology advanced, they had taped interactive sessions which were made available at remote locations in special rooms equipped with cameras and screens that would allow students to see the teacher, interact with other students and participate during the class time.


Research has shown that online-learning enhances student learning (Brewer, DeJonge, & Stout, 2001, & Hoffmann, 2002). The students are given the opportunity to not only listen, like a traditional lecture, but also read, respond and participate. The online environment offers the students the advantages of flexibility, convenience and the ability to work at their own pace (Meyer, 2002 & Wallace, 2003). They can sit at Starbucks and review the components of a wall system in a residential house. Or they can review the power point presentation on the proper placement of a crane during the midnight hours.


Applications of online learning


The Department of Construction Technology at IUPUI currently utilizes Oncourse, a proprietary (owned by Indiana University) online-teaching management tool, similar to WebCT or Blackboard, in all of their courses. The minimum requirement of the School, as requested by the student government, is using the online “gradebook”. To better understand the usefulness of online instruction, levels of online participation have been defined. The three level of online instruction are Introductory, Multi-modal and Advanced. Each level will be explained through examples from specific courses and lessons learned in the area of content and implementation.


Level 1:  Introductory Applications


As a minimum, instructors can begin with one or two of the components available though the online-teaching management software (WebCT, Blackboard, etc.). These tools usually include a place for the syllabus, schedule, roster, email, discussion forums, chat rooms, tests and survey and grade book.  The simplest use is to load a syllabus so that important course information is now available to the students 24 hours a day seven days a week. The course related email is also helpful for students to be able to email other students in the class and communicate continuously with the professor. The online mail system within a course keeps the emails for a specific class in one place so it does not bog down regular email. If the students are accustomed to using this tool, they can make connections with students in their course and ask each other question. If questions are asked to the instructor, the answers can be redirected to all students and eliminate the need of answering the same question multiple times.


Students are now asking for more online components to be implemented in all courses. At Purdue the School of Engineering and Technology, student government requested that all instructors use the grade book as minimum in each course. The federal government is also asking for higher standards of secrecy with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The online-teaching management tools assist instructors by already having the students officially on the roster loaded into the course. The instructor has to set up only the template for the requirements of the course and input the grades. Students must login to see grades and can only see their own grades. This function fulfills the federal requirement for grade information concerning secrecy.


Another simple task that will assist the students with course information is posting Power Point presentations, lecture notes and assignments in the schedule area of the course management software.  This function allows the students to review course information outside of class and pushes them to be responsible for their own education. If information is already in electronic format, it is easy to post it for students in the class to see. Items can be scanned in if necessary to add to the site. Also, there are textbooks which provide websites that have Power Point presentations related to course materials that can be used by all instructors. The textbook “Construction Planning, Equipment, and Methods” by R.L. Peurifoy, et al. McGraw-Hill has an excellent website with Power Point presentations that align with each chapter. Allen’s “Fundamental of Building Construction” published by Wiley, also had Power Point presentations related to chapters and related to specific topic areas that are available to instructors and students. These resources can be accessed by giving the students a website reference to access the information or by copying the Power Point presentation into the course management software. Both could be made available to students in a matter of minutes.


Overall, experience has shown that a new faculty member can successfully set up and maintain an online grade book after a 45 minute interactive training session. The online grade book is applicable to all course levels and is not content specific. By posting all grades, it encourages students to be responsible and take ownership. For instructors, it makes them aware of the timeliness of grading as well as having final semester grades calculated as soon as the grades are input. The online software also calculates high, low and average grades as well as running grades for each assignment.


Level 2: Multi-modal Applications


As an instructor becomes more comfortable with the tools of online course management, more features can be used. Multi-modal is a term, developed by the authors to describe this application, used to describe a course that meets face to face, but applies online information as a resource for the students. The term also supports the idea that multiple teaching methods are used to support different forms of student learning. The VARK theory of student learning categorizes that everyone has a preferred learning style including visual (diagrams), read/write (textbook), auditory, (lecture) and kinesthetic (demonstrative) (Fleming, 1992). The construction department at IUPUI integrated online resource usage into courses as a way to assist and enhance student learning.


This level has increased the number of styles of learning that a student can experience from a class. It is a beneficial way to continually improve the course by adding the online components. This fulfills the requirements for Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) ( and American Council for Construction Education (ACCE) ( accreditations regarding continuous improvement of courses within the curriculum.


The best way to explain this level of online learning is to give examples from courses at various levels within a curriculum. All of the course examples listed below meet face to face and use the online course management tool as a way to enhance the course and add to the depth of coverage and understanding of the topics.


The “CNT105 – Introduction to Construction Technology” uses the class, syllabus, schedule, email, quizzes and gradebook. This course has placed power point presentations developed by the instructor online assigned to the date of the lecture. The course includes 50 – 100 students in the lecture, so it can be distracting to pay attention in such an environment. Having the lectures online allows the students to only listen in class and review the power point presentation later.  Each week the students are required to take an online quiz over the chapters. Good students will have received the information via the auditory lecture, visually reviewed the power points online, read the textbook chapter and kinesthetically made note cards if necessary to practice the content. Students are introduced these techniques during this course as a base for success in the overall curriculum.


The “CNT 330 – Construction Field Operations” course uses the class, syllabus, schedule, tests, e-mail and gradebook aspects of Oncourse. This course is a text-knowledge plus problem-solving type of course. The “Schedule” has the power point presentations from the text book (Construction Planning, Equipment, and Methods by R.L. Peurifoy, and et al). These power point presentations have been coupled to instructor developed quizzes and homework also administered on Oncourse. All the homework is conveyed to class through Oncourse e-mail. All exams are done on Oncourse using different styles of tests including but not limited to true/false, multiple choice, and short answer. Homework, quiz, or test undertakings that involve problem solutions are handled through multiple choice or short answer. Each of these has its own advantages and disadvantages which will not be elaborated on here but provides a good tool for emphasizing different kinds of learning and motivation. This course also requires internet research for writing of several research reports which are conveyed to the instructor also through e-mail.


The “CNT347 – Construction Contract Administration and Specifications” uses the online course management tool above and also uses the construction industry online software Constructw@re, as a teaching tool within a construction documentation course. Constructw@re has been very supportive of higher education programs by providing free training in Alpharetta, GA at their home office or by making corporate partners with schools and industry in areas where training is going to take place. One faculty member developed a proposal for course improvement that provided funding for the faculty member to visit the training center for a 4 day workshop. During the training, the Constructw@re professionals provided one-on-one assistance with setting up a training site and shared their training materials.


To implement this in a course, students were trained in Constructw@re and role play on project sites developed for the course. In the Indianapolis area, where this university is located, many owners require the use of Constructw@re on their projects. This is another opportunity for the students to acquire a skill set that will build their resume. Because it is online software, students can log in from home and participate as owners, contractors, designers or subs in a realistic case study approach to teaching. At the 300 level, the students are in the position to apply knowledge that has been obtained. It was found during curriculum reviews that this participial course lacked the understanding of where documents flow. For example, the students understood the definition, parts and use of a Request for Information (RFI) or Change Order (CO), but lacked the comprehension of the life of an RFI or CO as it travels from person to person for approval. The students did not realize the responsibility and roles of the major players in the construction project. The exercises in Constructw@re gave the students realistic experiences of what an architect, contractors, sub or owner had to approve or review during the project.


The “CNT 494 - Engineering Economics for Construction” course uses the class, syllabus, schedule, tests, e-mail and gradebook aspects of Oncourse. Since the text-book (Engineering Economic Analysis by D.G. Newnan and et al.) does not have any power point presentations, power point presentations developed by the instructor about how to use of a Business Calculator have been incorporated into the Schedule part of the Oncourse platform. This course is a textbook fundamentals plus problem-solving. For the learning of fundamentals, the students are tied to the site for online research and this research is assessed through online quiz, homework, etc using the Oncourse platform. The problem solving part of the course is handled through in-class meetings and assessed by means of online exams etc.  This course also requires internet research for writing of several research reports which were conveyed to the instructor also through e-mail.


The “CET 452- Hydraulics and Drainage” course uses the class, syllabus, schedule, tests, e-mail and gradebook aspects of Oncourse. Since the text-book (Applied Fluid Mechanics by R.L. Mott) does not have any power point presentations, power point presentations are being developed by the instructor for online access through the Oncourse platform. This course is textual fundamental plus problem solving type of course. For the learning of fundamentals, the students are tied to the site for online research and this research is assessed through online quiz, homework, etc using the Oncourse platform. The problem solving part of the course is handled through in-class meetings and assessed by means of online exams etc.  This course also required internet research for writing of several research reports which were conveyed to the instructor also through e-mail.


All of the methods mentioned above give the students face to face and online content knowledge. It supports the visual, auditory and read/write learning styles. The lab sections of the courses have kinesthetic type demonstrations for the content. It also assists the students in their need to be responsible for the course. There are time limits for taking the online quizzes and grades are posted automatically when the quiz is complete, so the student has the ability to check grades anytime, anywhere. The example of using online project management software (Constructw@re) provided a realistic exercise for students learning about construction contracts and documents. The next step for improvement in the curriculum would be to implement this as a form of submitting work in the construction capstone course.


Level 3 – Advanced Applications


The first two levels of online curriculum implementation can be done without extra assistance or resource use above and beyond Microsoft office or course management tools knowledge. Minimal training in WebCT, Blackboard or other course management platforms can enable utilization of these methods. The final format is actually enabling student learning totally online. All information is loaded into a website that is interactive and has content, practice, and assessment of course information.


At IUPUI, a campus wide initiative has been implemented to provide online courses in every curriculum. This has been done by providing faculty members with a summer grant / workshop. Competitively selected faculty are given a stipend of $5,000 for summer work and support from experts in digital systems and instructional design. It requires them to attend a one week intensive training where a support team is formed and basic concepts are developed.  The faculty make a contract that by the end of the summer, all materials will be available online and placed on a website for use within the course management software.


Since the above grants are campus wide, high enrollment courses were chosen for initial implementation. Currently, ART165 - Building materials and methods, ART120 – Architectural Presentation (drawing) and ART155 – Residential AutoCAD have been completed within the context of the grant program. The faculty realize that it was a lot of work and a lot of organization to document all content knowledge of a class online. The drawing and methods courses were successful in integrating the online information into non-online courses as an extra resource for the students. The AutoCAD online course was not as successful because the software used to train students in AutoCAD changes every year and therefore the course content needs adjustments every year. The best lesson learned from these courses were that a constant general content can be taught with ease, but that something that changes often is harder to change once it has been developed into a higher level digital media. The current courses are developed using Dreamweaver software, which is not very difficult to use, but for a construction faculty member not teaching computer software, it was difficult to keep up with the tasks required.



Lessons learned – conclusions


Difficult issues still remain to be addressed for online courses. One is the voiced issue related to prevention of cheating and or collaboration in online tests. Through being able to scramble questions for different students from a batch has helped some of these issues in this respect still linger. Limiting the time for online exams is a way to help, but it is a questionable approach especially when the objective is to have the student search and find and learn no matter how long it takes.


Another issue has been conveyance of tests the involve graphics related to the problems on the exams. In our experience, JPEG files have not always worked but Adobe files seem to mesh well with the course management system. This may be a platform dependent issue that needs to be checked and proofed for workability before an exam is administered across course management systems.

Another issue that has characterized our application is what kind of testing / assessment tool to use meaning when is True / False or Multiple Choice or Short Answer or Matching questions appropriate for online education setting. As in the case of non-online assessment, utilizing True / False questions suffers from maybe not being a good indicator of learning due to the high percentage of success by guessing that can occur. The use of Multiple Choice, when compiled with ample time given for the undertaking, allow each choice to be tried to arrive at the correct response in the case of a problem solving solution. Both of the above could suffer from the inevitable deficiency that when one student takes the test / quiz, etc. the others may get the answers from that student and respond accordingly. Despite the shortcomings, if Multiple Choice questions do not have “none” as an option, it has been found to be a great motivator for the good students to keep trying to find in the right answer.


Even though short answer questions do not provide the above motivation since no answers are presented for the student at the time of taking the assessment exam, it has been found to be a safe mode for undertakings that involve problem-solving and provides a fairer playing field. In addition, when there are two or more exactly the same and equally ridiculous answers, one can be sure the exam is being compromised by some students and appropriate action can be taken.


Another issue with online learning is the reliability of the platform in which it is operating. It has not been uncommon that the system fails on the day and time of a scheduled exam or the system freezes on the student when they are off campus. Then the students’ irritation is blamed on the instructor.  Along the same line, Internet Explorer is less reliable than Mozilla Firefox for reasons still not answered by community that have put the online delivery and management systems together. But hopefully, as technology is advancing, more stability will be built into the system.





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