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ASC Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference
University of Cincinnati - Cincinnati, Ohio
April 6 - 9, 2005         
Alternative Reference Materials: A Case Study in Publishing a Digital Textbook for Construction Surveying
Paul W. Holley
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama
Textbooks are an important part of education.  The advancement of information technology is offering creative ways to change reference material and teaching methods to respond to the cultural shifts in the attention traits of today’s students.  Digital textbooks can be excellent teaching tools, particularly in curricula of applied fields such as construction management.  They are capable of storing and presenting large amounts of high quality data in a variety of formats as opposed to web-based products that are often troublesome based on connection speed and software limitations.  This paper presents a case study in which the author of this manuscript authored and produced a digital textbook for use in a construction surveying class.
Keywords: digital textbook, construction surveying, reference material, alternative teaching



The textbook industry is a significant part of education.  In their study of scientific texts, Rey, et al., (2004) note that “Textbooks represent a substantial financial investment and strongly influence what students learn.  They can facilitate – or compromise- comprehension.”  In many cases, texts are much more than just reference material for course content.  This is not a new concept, as findings have historically shown that teachers often rely on textbooks for both curricular and instructional decisions (Michigan State University, 1986).  This is particularly true for applied curricula such as construction management.  Applied construction coursework includes much more than just factual or definitive topics, but also techniques and subjective processes upon which instructional methods in textbooks can be dependant.
The proliferation of information technology is also having a substantial impact on education, offering new potential in how information is conveyed.  It is through these information technology mediums that education in applied curricula can improve.  “Construction educators must take the lead in promoting computer literacy in their curriculums and to continue to develop new courses, delivery styles and software applications through continued research activities” (Berryman, et al., 2004).  Students in today’s college environment are arguably engaged and challenged differently, and educators must respond.  Further, creative delivery methods can improve communication of information that was once limited to printed text and non-interactive media.
Courses that are heavy in fundamentals and methods are often difficult for students; those in construction management curriculums are no exception.  In his work identifying IT-based methods to enhance statics coursework, Burt notes that “The limitations of the traditional classroom environment and methods of communication make the explanation of introductory concepts difficult” (2002).  Burt’s work included offering web-based diagrams that provided animated references so that students could visualize the transfer of loads on a structure.  The use of pictures and diagrams has long been a successful part of text materials, for both still images and sequences.  “Diagrams or ‘pictures’ are an efficient way to represent a design, to display the content elements at each level of analysis, to show how these are linked, and to present a theme.  Two general structures provide “lenses” for pattern analysis: description focuses on content as an object with static attributes, whereas sequence portrays content as a dynamic event.” (Chambliss and Calfee, 1989)  IT-based animation of Burt’s diagrams was the next logical step in improving the effectiveness of the image.  “Animated files create a sense of motion that can help understanding (Ryan, 2000 as referenced by Burt 2002)
Current IT technology now offers the ability to see non-diagrammatic streaming video, but with certain limitations.  The foremost of these is internet connection speed for many students’ home computers and problems associated with downloading files of large magnitude.  “File size of each web page becomes an issue, as graphic intensive pages take longer to load via slow cable modems” (Burt 2002).  A viable medium that can contain large amounts of data is the digital textbook.  Williams defines digital textbooks as “professionally produced, high quality, multimedia-enriched, interactive products available on CD-ROM…They should be able to motivate students by making the information interesting through quality information design and multimedia development”  (2003)
Construction surveying is perhaps some of the most applied of coursework in the construction curriculum.  It too has historically suffered from a shortage of engaging text material for students.  Further, many surveying texts lack practicality or contain far too much information on engineering topics that may likely never be used on a construction jobsite.  In the preface of his text, Roberts notes that “Traditionally, surveying texts have been chosen and adapted for use in construction layout and control classes.  However, the texts that work so well in studying the science of surveying often do not work at all well in the construction discipline.  Much of the content of the surveying text is of no relevance to the construction professional or is too theoretical to be applicable” (1995)
This paper presents a development in which the author addressed both the content of traditional surveying textbooks as well as the methods in which they convey information.  A digital textbook was produced to replace the traditional written text that was historically used in the construction surveying course at University “X”.
Methodology and Case Study of Production
The methodology consisted of two phases.  First, product intent was defined to determine criteria about which the text could be written.  Second, the text was authored, developed, produced and specified for use at University X.
Product Intent
Product intent was identified through a series of steps:  the establishment of criteria, defining course content, and determining production logistics.  The primary criteria of the text were to:
-Generate time during course meetings by providing a text that engaged the student so that fundamentals could be learned outside of class
-Maintain performance in the course such that the digital text was pragmatic in content and did not promote student apathy and have a negative impact on grades
-Provide a text that was convenient in format, flexibility and size
-Provide a text that was considered to have value based on both content and price
Course content was based on course objectives adopted by the faculty and accreditation standards.  The author determined that instrument exposure as well as exercise techniques should be germane to the scope of work that the majority of students would encounter upon graduation.  Arumala found that, of a sampling of 14 ACCE accredited four year construction management programs, surveying instruments thought to be most important to which students should be exposed were automatic levels, theodolites, electronic distance measuring devices, and total stations (2000).  The author concurs with these results, and course content prior to and during the implementation of the digital text reflects this position.  Note that, however, a primary advantage of the digital text is that it can be easily expanded or amended as technology advances and certain gear becomes commonplace on construction jobsites.
Logistics of production were a collaborative effort between the author and the University’s educational television production unit.  It was important to generate a text of high quality even with significant cost in production.  The ETV unit produced all field and studio pieces, provided computer production and editing services, and coordinated the physical production of the text in CD format.  Forging a positive relationship with the production staff was critical, as many faculty members are not experienced in this type of media production, the author being no exception.
Product Development
The first phase of product development was the generation of standardized templates.  Consistency is important in IT-based materials so that navigation is predictable and does not distract from the text content.  Ryan (2000) notes that “consistent page design and format will help users navigate through information more efficiently.”  Additionally, it needed to be visually appealing to the “reader” of the text; a blueprint scheme was created to appear similar to a construction document. 
Important criteria for the template included:
                -Navigation links that were easily recognizable
                -Pause/Start feature for video segments
                -Clear organization of the Chapter menu
                -Chapter number/title easily identifiable
                -Segment length and time elapsed to manage expectations
                -Fonts and graphics that were easily recognized by student PCs
                -Appealing format to keep students engaged
Once the general navigation template was designed, three basic means of active data presentation were utilized in the video frame:  live studio “head shot” presentations, full instructor on screen with images and diagrams added through “blue screen” technology, and finally full-action field video with instructor voice-over (figures 1, 2 and 3).  Some studio segments were presented with an overhead camera so that live sketching could be performed to accurately demonstrate techniques on paper before field footage was viewed.  Live field video also included numerous creative components including simulated views through instrument scopes and interviews with industry members. 
Each chapter in the digital text included an introduction with key objectives, definitions and basic techniques, demonstrations of the use of gear, and finally a recap of key points made throughout the chapter.  Certain chapters’ material required slight variations from this template, but the basic integrity was maintained throughout the text.  Segments authored for chapter introductions and recaps were formatted for a teleprompter so that delivery would be succinct and thorough.  Content for segments with “blue screen” images and field footage voice-overs were produced without full scripts; rather with an outline that could be viewed during each take.


Figure 1:Template with “blue screen” images projected
Figure 2: Studio headshot for introductions and recaps
Figure 3:  Live field footage with voice-over
Next, an outline of the entire text was authored, and then all presentation text scripts, demonstration sequencing and dialogue, and educational images were produced.  This process took several months to complete, through which constant refinements were made to produce improved iterations.  Field segments were shot in logistical production order, which was invariably not sequential order.  Experienced film crews provided invaluable help in coordinating this effort so that the final footage would be of professional quality from viewer perspective.  Once both field and studio filming had reached 80% completion, studio editing began while final filming was completed.  “AVID” Media Composition equipment was then used to produce motion picture quality video segments for the text.  Ultimately, 4 ½ hours of finished video material were produced and included in the digital text.  Still shots of various video segments are shown in figures 4 through 8.
Lastly, a glossary with over 100 entries through which the viewer can scroll through or search for terms alphabetically was produced to aid in teaching surveying vocabulary, including photos of terms where appropriate (Figure 9).
Figure 4:  Control line principles are explained
Figure 5:  Hub placement on desired grade techniques are demonstrated
Figure 6: Rod gradation of tenths and hundredths are explained
Figure 7 : Theodolite view of hub placement “on line” is simulated
Figure 8 : Total station readings and function are demonstrated
Figure 9:  Sample glossary entry, “Batterboards”
Author’s Conclusion and Recommendations
The foremost concern of digital texts of this quality is the cost of production.  Retail price points must be considered early in developing the production pro forma to determine financial feasibility, regardless of whether the product is a text, an asynchronous web-based product or a lecture on demand.  The unit cost of film production warrants a significant effort in authoring accurate, appropriate, and engaging content of the text.  If cost reimbursement can be managed, this type of alternative media appears promising for use in applied programs such as construction management.  The development of this text required a significant investment of both time and money; to date the author has spent over 600 hours in the development and refinement of the DVD product.  Securing funding for quality production was a substantial up-front risk, and analysis of the benefits over a traditional text has just begun.
The construction surveying digital text described in this paper is currently being refined to address issues brought forward by both students and the author.  Changing the video image to full screen and the addition of homework problems were the most consistent requests, both of which have been accomplished.   It is now available to students in an encrypted DVD format, and also includes a printable “script” for each introduction and recap as a study guide.
Some may be leery of digital media making traditional instructors extinct.  Williams notes, “Can a digital textbook replace you? …only if you are [just] a dispenser of information, which makes you expendable since information is abundant and inexpensive.   … a good digital textbook cannot and should not replace a teacher”(2003).  Faculty should acknowledge that alternate information delivery exists to assist them in providing a much more rich experience for students, thereby improving the quality of graduates from applied programs.
Arumala, J. O., (2000).  “The Impact of New Surveying Instruments on the Construction Surveying Course of Study”  Journal of Construction Education, Fall v 5, no 3, pp 227-243
Berryman, C. W., Fischer, B., Wentz, T., Nobe, M., (2004) “Distance Education with Internet2 Audio/Video Technology”  The International Journal of Construction Education and Research, Summer, v 1, no 1, pp 45-60
Burt, R. (2002).  “Using Technology Mediated Instruction to Support an Introductory Structures Course for Construction Undergraduates”  ASC Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference, pp 9-17
Chambliss, M. J., Calfee, R. C., (1989).  “Designing Science Textbooks to Enhance Student Understanding”  Educational Psychologist, v 24, n 3, pp 307-322
Michigan State University, College of Education  (1986).  Research Update.  Notes & News, November 7, p 2
Reys, B., Reys, R. E., Chavez, O., (2004) “Why Mathematics Textbooks Matter”  Educational Leadership, Feb., v 61, i 5, pp 61-67
Roberts, J., (1995).  Construction Surveying, Layout and Dimensional Control, Delmar Publishers
Ryan, R., (2000).  “Best Practice Suggestions for Custom Building a Technology Class Web Site and Administering the Class”  Journal of Construction Education, spring, v 5, no 1, pp 6-19
Williams, P., (2003).  “Will a digital textbook replace me?” Technological Horizons in Educations Journal, May v 30, i 10, pp 25-27