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Using Active Construction Sites As The Classroom: A Unique Course In Engineering And The Construction Process

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Trend in Construction Engineering Education II

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1376.1 - 11.1376.7



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Paper Authors


Chris Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Swan is an Associate Professor in and current chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Tufts University. His current interests are the reuse of recovered or recyclable materials and sustainable construction.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Using Active Construction Sites as the Classroom: A Unique Course in Engineering and the Construction Process Abstract

The construction industry is a $4 trillion-a-year business that employs a significant number of engineering students each year. Teaching engineering students about the construction process and building technology often involves traditional pedagogy (e.g., lectures, assignments, exams, etc.) with occasional visits to construction sites. Many times, these visits are met with some trepidation from site contractors who may view them as an interference or interruption to normal site operations. Instructors may also find site visits difficult to incorporate into the course schedule due to logistical problems; e.g., travel to and from the site, and site work schedules.

This paper describes an engineering course; presented by Linbeck Construction Inc., the site’s construction manager, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tufts University, based on two, active, on-campus construction projects; a residence hall and a new music building. Active, problem-based learning was central to course delivery with access to real-world applications of construction processes and technology readily available. The course instructors were CEE faculty, Linbeck personnel, and numerous guest presenters ranging from architects/engineers/builders to managers of university operations and community relations. The classroom was on-site; a construction trailer converted into the Linbeck Learning Center.

Pedagogically, this arrangement changed the course dynamics from using sites as co- or extra- curricular components in course delivery to having active sites, and all their technical and non- technical activities, become the central point through which the course is delivered. Direct contact with a “living” site provided valuable insight to what the students were reading and hearing in lectures as well as immediate relevance to course assignments. It is hoped that the course becomes sustainable via a continued partnership between the department and the construction manager.


In the Fall of 2003, Tufts University initiated the development of a Master Plan for its campus in Somerville/Medford, Massachusetts. The plan, which is evolving, noted a number of potential building sites for the existing campus. Two such sites are the locations for Tufts first new building construction in the past 20 years, the Sophia Gordon Residence Hall and a new Music Building. The new buildings, located across the street from in each other, started construction only months apart with the construction activities of the residence hall beginning in January 2005, and the music building construction starting during the summer of 2005. Though each building was designed by different architects, Tufts retained Linbeck Construction Inc. as the construction manager for both projects. Linbeck invited Tufts to use the construction of these projects to further its educational mission. The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering pursued this opportunity by seeking to use the construction sites as the basis for a course on the construction process and the roles engineers have in construction. In other words,

Swan, C. (2006, June), Using Active Construction Sites As The Classroom: A Unique Course In Engineering And The Construction Process Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1208

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