Designed to be employed? Measuring the impact of a multidisciplinary collaborative design project on learner perceptions of employability attributes

A collaborative building design project undertaken within an internationally-distributed team involves a dynamic process, characterised by generation and sharing of information, and synthesis of knowledge between participants. Learning within this dynamic environment is challenging, but can bring a number of notable benefits for the participants. Inherent within successful collaborative learning is the required ability to co-produce design ‘content’ with others from different disciplines, and to manage the ‘relationship’ between all participants involved in the design team (Leinonen et al., 2005). The ‘content’ constitutes individuals’ inputs, which originate from disciplinary knowledge, skills and expertise, whereas managing the relationship requires a set of ‘soft’ people management skills. During the design process, the participants are presented with a problem (in a building project, it is usually a client brief), which has multiple potential solutions. To arrive at an optimum solution, the participants should explore the rationale of each alternative, and present and negotiate alternatives with the other participants. This process encourages deep-learning of the subject discipline and helps to develop people management skills, such as teamwork, communication, and other performance-enhancing behaviours which have been linked to ‘proactive personality’ (Tymon 2013). In the present and future labour market, graduates are expected to be able to work across disciplinary and geographical boundaries (Becerik-Gerber et al. 2012, BIM2050 group 2014), and these people management skills have been identified as the skills for developing sustainable built environment (BE) (Egan 2004). In a report commissioned by the UNESCO, Beanland and Hadgraft (2014) further stressed the importance of the development of appropriate interpersonal attributes and capabilities as an integral part of engineering education worldwide. The evaluation of the skills developed from the learning activity is critical to demonstrate the success of learning endeavour, and is reflected in the achievement of learning outcomes. There exist examples which explore and evaluate the impacts and benefits of collaborative design projects in the built environment (e.g. Becerik-Gerber et al. 2012), but none evaluate pedagogical and personal development skills from the learner perspective, and then compare the developed skills before and after a learning intervention. This evaluation is presented in this chapter, with a view to enhance understanding of the effectiveness of this learning approach, and to inform key requirements of its successful implementation. This chapter considers several issues in the evaluation of collaborative design project, including measures which allow consistency of evaluation of pre- and post-implementation across several disciplines involved in the collaboration, learning outcomes of each discipline, and the influence of the participants’ beliefs about the benefits of collaborative design project. Thus, key research questions are suggested as follows. 1. What are the impacts of a collaborative design project on learning outcomes, defined by attributes including understanding, ability, skills and qualities, as perceived by the participants, pre- and post-implementation? 2. Is there any difference in perceived impact between participants from different disciplines, and those with different beliefs about the efficacy of the learning approach? 3. What attributes can facilitate successful collaborative design?