1. Professional, institutional and pedagogical requirements

Implementing international design project enriches the curricula as the students are not only learning the technical aspects of building design, but also develop their people management skills, intercultural awareness and knowledge of industry practices in different countries. This will equip future built environment graduates to work and contribute effectively to increasing globally connected society. This note identifies professional, institutional and pedagogical considerations for implementing international student collaboration in building design project. They are not meant to be comprehensive, but provide a set of principles which can help in the design and implementation of the activities. They are presented below.

1.1 Incorporating professional practices and requirements in the design of the activities

If the course/programme is accredited by professional institutions (e.g. the Chartered Institute of Building), it is important that the professional institution’s educational framework is considered and addressed by the learning outcomes of the module. This is not only to demonstrate that the design project meets the requirements of the educational framework, but also can be used as a positive selling point of the course to the prospective students and employers, specifically, on the training in simulated industry environment and experience in working with international partners. If interaction during the meeting involves discussion and real-time manipulation of 3D building information models, the activities could be deemed to represent industry practice of the future where all parties involved work on a single federated model (‘BIM level 3’). Inputs from employers (may be those who sit in the industrial board of the course) can be useful, and potentially the tutors could invite them as members of judging panel to assess the outcomes. In the BIM-Hub project, industry professionals participated in the evaluation of video clip competition.

Collaborative design project may take different form of collaboration, which will bring requirements on different team set-up and technology used. The tutors should consider a mixed of disciplines within the groups to allow multi-disciplinary interaction, mimicking the practice in the industry. The assignment tasks should encourage this interaction as evidence by minutes of meetings (at least weekly throughout the semester).

1.2 Setting up design project at institution level

Design project could be implemented within institution or between institutions, nationally or internationally. The greater the number of institutions, the greater the complexity, and up to a point, the more benefits that the students and tutors can learn. If the design project is a cross-institutional activity, it is useful if it is part of a partnership agreement between institutions involved. This can facilitate an opportunity for further iterations for the purpose of continuous improvement.

1.3 Convincing key stakeholders including tutors, students, administrators and technical support team

The implementation of design project requires more effort and commitment, over and above ‘business-as-usual’ delivery of the modules. The tutors should be convinced with the benefits, particularly in gaining personal experience of implementing innovative learning activities which add value to the learning outcomes. The students should be made to realise the need to acquire communication and collaboration skills for enhancing their employability. The administrators and technical support team should be convinced with the need to incorporate the design project activities to enhance the competitiveness of their HE institutions, by offering courses which are relevant to the need of the industry, and actively engage the students in the process to ensure student satisfaction.

1.4 Aligning and modifying institution-embedded practice and overcoming resistance to change

Each institution has their own curriculum, mode of delivery and assessment in their courses. Specific adjustments should be made, for example due to: different start and end of the semester (Canadian students starting and finishing 4 weeks before the UK students), different marking schemes, scales, module credits, different time zones requiring compromise of meeting time. Importantly, the existing course content of each institution may have to be modified to allow the inclusion of design project activities. All these adjustments can be time consuming and test the commitment of the individuals involved.

1.5 Coordinating activities between institutions and addressing unforeseen issues during implementation

Sometimes, unforeseen issues emerge during implementation stage, particularly when design project activities are conducted for the first time. Coordination of activities and addressing emerging issues during implementation should be conducted in timely manner, with a consensus from the tutors involved. The decisions should be consistently communicated to the students in participating institutions to secure and maintain support.

1.6 Choosing appropriate modules/courses to participate in the design project

If the activities are incorporated in the existing modules, there should be building design element in them. It is beneficial to minimise changes in the existing module in the first implementation. Further changes could be considered in the future years, as the tutors develop experience and learn from the previous implementation.

1.7 Choosing collaboration technology that is affordable

There is a wide range of collaboration technology as used in the industry. The challenge is to choose the one that meets the purpose and is affordable. Sometimes, the funding for technology may not be an issue, but the existing institution IT set-up does not allow the collaboration to take place due to restriction on access, e.g. fire-wall. In this case, a proxy to the ideal solution should be identified. In the BIM-Hub project, we use a desktop sharing service, GoToMeeting, as the appropriate collaborative technology solution to facilitate real-time online collaboration. The academic team should explore other technology solutions, which may already be subscribed by the institution, and therefore freely available for members of the participating institutions.

1.8 Skills to use drawing software to create and manipulate 3D models

The skills to create or manipulate 3D models should be part of the skills set of participating groups. Although the students should have the technical skills before participating in this design project, not all members of the group need to be an expert in creating 3D models as not all of them will need to create geometry in 3D model. However, it is beneficial if each student is able to manipulate the model when participating in the discussion. This ensures that all members can participate effective without a feeling to be left out.

1.9 Choosing (or adjusting existing) educational technology to support learning activities

Prior to implementation, each institution may have their IT provisions to support learning, such as virtual learning environment (e.g. Moodle) and online peer assessment (e.g. WebPA). The tutors should explore whether and how they could be effectively utilised, before proposing a new solution. The key principle is to minimise changes to the existing IT learning support whenever possible for the first implementation. If the existing IT learning support could be used effectively (potentially with some adjustments), the tutors can focus their effort in supporting the student learning. Technical problems with IT learning support which hamper group progresses can be a major problem with students. In the BIM-Hub project, the existing Moodle and online peer assessment (Web-PA) has adjusted to allow multi-institutional accesses. The project provides an example of learning technology support infrastructure which allows more effective and efficient delivery of international design project.

1.10 Organising regular meetings between tutors and participating students

Communication between tutors and between tutors and participating students is critical to the success of design projects. Regular meetings should be organised at least fortnightly between tutors and monthly between tutors and students. To allow more effective meetings, representatives should be selected from the class. They should be willing to gather views before the meetings and to feed the outcomes to their colleagues following the meetings. These meetings could be a vehicle for student participation and engagement which will ultimately benefits the learning outcomes.