In school, skills and subjects tend to be taught in “buckets.” Later, graduates arrive at a jobsite and everything they learned from the buckets—estimating, safety, scheduling, accounting and so on—need to be combined into a heavy duty mixer. How often is the estimate discussed without the schedule or budget? Everything intertwines and mixes together. As such, schools need to align education with the real world and account for the learning styles of newer generations.

In the case of Purdue University’s School of Construction Management, the curriculum was successfully taught in traditional buckets for more than 40 years. But today, the faculty is challenging itself to modify and update the delivery to better simulate real jobsites. Essentially, the existing curriculum was dissected and reassembled so the pieces tied directly to the skills, decision-making and management required on actual construction projects. The result: A more industry-focused and hands-on construction management curriculum.

Portions of all construction management classes such as scheduling, estimating and jobsite management will be taught together. Because construction management is considered an applied science, it is appropriate for students to apply classroom theory and concepts to practical, technical problems on actual construction projects. Research shows that application and repetition are the best ways to retain knowledge. In this new curriculum, courses will be taught in modules that vertically build on each other, repeating basic concepts and theory during the course of the four-year program. The goal is to produce interns and graduates with better critical thinking skills and the confidence to immediately apply classroom theory to real construction projects.

Each traditional semester-long class has been broken down into modules of instruction, classroom activities, and assessments. Each of these modules and the associated construction-related theory will be introduced in class and then immediately used in an applicable situation or problem on an authentic construction project. Various modules from all areas of the curriculum will be horizontally integrated, applied to specific projects and then team-taught in the classroom.

In order to facilitate the application to real-life projects, Purdue’s faculty has been working on assembling a large and diverse project library. Fortunately, the program has tremendous support from the construction industry. Soon after hearing about the plan to transform the curriculum, the industry advisory board unanimously offered its support and assistance. When complete, any given project file in the library will contain much more than just drawings and specifications. All documentation associated with the project, including budgets, schedules, submittals, logs, contracts, change orders, punch lists, etc., will be included in the file. To address any confidentiality concerns, sensitive information will be fully redacted before the project is loaded into the cloud-based project library.

As an example, second-year students may be required to study building layout, basic structural systems and estimating. Instead of receiving lectures in individual classes on these concepts and then reviewing generic examples of layout, structures and estimates as documented in text books, students will now apply the concepts to a real project. The faculty teaching these concepts will have already identified the project from the library to apply these concepts using original drawings, specifications and documents.

For second-year students, a two- story, suburban, steel-framed retail project may be selected and used as the basis for teaching these concepts. Layout requirements for the building will be recreated and performed in surveying labs. Structural steel shop drawings will be used to teach the students about structures, and actual project estimates will be created by the students and compared to the professional estimates. As an added bonus, when project managers and superintendents from the particular project being studied are available, they will be included in classroom discussions facilitated through live video segments.

This same delivery method will be used in students’ third year in the program. The difference will be that the concepts and the projects being studied will be increasingly more complex. For example, third-year students may review contract disputes, change order requests, and apply 4-D scheduling concepts to the renovation of an occupied hospital located on a complicated urban jobsite.

Construction projects rarely go exactly as planned. Unforeseen conditions, changes and inclement weather require project managers and superintendents to alter plans and make high- stake decisions in relatively short periods of time. The ability to confidently make these critical decisions comes through the practice and application of similar decisions. Students can’t learn these skills by collecting and memorizing facts, even from the best textbooks. With this  innovative curriculum in place, graduates will be even more prepared to step onto the jobsite with confidence in their technical knowledge and decision-making skills.

Patti Morgan, Brad Benhart, Jessica Cabral, Jamie Metzger and Scott Santon are faculty in the School of Construction Management Technology at Purdue University. For more information, visit polytechnic.purdue.edu/degrees/construction-management-technology.