The HP Catalyst Project
The BIM-Hub project is a further development from a pilot project entitled “Learning to create a better built environment” which ran from 2011 to 2012 and was a collaborative effort between Coventry University in the UK and Ryerson University in Canada. It was funded by the HP Catalyst Initiative: http://catalyst.navigator.nmc.org/gallery/poster.php?nid=13046&vid=21991.
This project aimed to give students the experience of working collaboratively at a distance, an employability skill increasingly becoming important in the global economies of the 21st century. Architecture students in Ryerson and Civil/Structural Engineering students in Coventry collaborated on building design. From the UK institution, 35 out of 249 undergraduate students participated voluntarily in the study. This was closely matched by the number of students from Canada; 37 students from the entire cohort. Participating UK students studied Civil and/or Structural Engineering, whereas Canadian students studied Architecture. One team typically comprised an equal number of students from both institutions; four from UK and four from Canada. Two hundred and fourteen non-participating UK students, who worked on the same building project, but with their co-located team, provide a comparative ‘control’ group for analysis at later stages of the project.
The students were asked about their experiences of the project and their responses analysed to compare and contrast the successful collaborations with the unsuccessful ones. This revealed a variety of strategies that promote good online collaboration and the project was highlighted as a valuable one for focusing on the “soft skills” (i.e. personal communication and teamworking) skills that engineers require.
The project however also identified a major gap in the provision of online collaboration, that of the lack of a platform that supported the range of unstructured, creative and highly iterative conversations that happen between architects, designers and engineers in the initial stages of the project, when disparate groups aim to create a coherent single vision for their design. This stage is referred to as “messy talk”. The outcome of the project was the recognition that we needed to both further refine our understanding of and guidance for how people collaborate online, but also to develop the technologies that would best enable people to implement the “messy talk” phase and integrate this with the Building Information Modelling (BIM) platform.