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Project introduction and background information

Civil engineering projects increasingly involve a wide range of stakeholders with diverse interests and multidisciplinary teams. Engineers need soft skills to deal with these teams and stakeholders. "How to educate these soft skills to engineering students?" is the central question for technical universities. The course Collaborative Design and Engineering in the Dutch master's programme Construction Management and Engineering is an answer to that question. Feedback, however, indicated that the course did not meet expectations. The course needed a redical redesign. This paper describes the redesign and resulting framework of the course. The principles of the redesign are constructive alignment, activated learning and not to lecture the skills as 'dry stuff'. The resulting course is based on a 'pressure cooker - coaching' framework. The pressure cookers part crates a situation in shich the students will experience stress. The students work in large groups on a complex assignment under time pressure. A mix of group and individual assignments creates tentsion between students. The coaching part provides structure and guidanece. Theory on the necessary soft skills is introduces early in the course in workshops. Consultation meetings help to keep the students on track. The course has now evolved over three years. Theoretical evaluation shows that the 'pressure cooker - coaching' framework fulfills the requirements of constructive alugnment. Practical evaluation, using feedback, shows a consistent high score. We consider the 'pressure cooker - coaching' framework broadly applicable and is successful enough to continue in our CDE course. Elements of the course can be improved. We consider introducing more theoretical depth and psychology without violating our idea of "no dry stuff" and "action learning".

In 2004, in recognition of the need for different skills and knowledge for future construction managers the Dutch State Secretary of Education, Culture and Science supported the initiative to create a new master's curriculum between the three dutch universities of technology. The Construction Management and Engineering (CME) master's programme, which started in 2007, is a main contribution to this need. Although the CME programme focuses on soft skills, hard factors are also further developed (as in the course probabilistic design(, The programme consists of two main blocks: a general block (five conrnerstones) and a specialization block. Among others, the cornerstones cover Project Management, Process Management and Collaborative Design and Engineering (CDE). The course Collaborative Design and Engineering was intended to focus most on the (soft) skills and attitude of the students. However feedback in 2011 indicated that the course did not meet the study goals and the students graded the course 2,3 on a scal of 5. The course needed a radical redesign. This has led to a redesign based on the principle to actively engage students. The idea behind the redesign was not to lecture the soft skills as 'dry stuff' from group dynamics textbooks, but to create circumstances in which soft skills would become necessary.To the challenging circumstances we added coaching for the students to give them guidance and the opportunity for consultation of the lecturers.

Over the last three years the students graded the redesigned course 3,9 on a scale of 5.

The resign of the course was based on the directions giving in Designing an effective course for a guide to teaching and learning practices from FSA and the constructive alignment as described in Teaching for Quality Learning at University.

Right from the beginning we placed alignment of the learning objectives, teaching activities and assessment central in the design of the course.

A second important point in the redesign is the principle of activating students. This principle also supports the learning objectives: we are not educating students to become experts in the field of social psychology if group dynamics but we want them to develop the necessary skills and attitude to bevome better engineers while working in teams.

Early in the redesign process we realized that we had to create stressful circumstances in which soft skills would be required to successfully finish the course.

Results and learnings

In the collaborative design and engineering the method of creating constructive alignment has proven to be successful. Positive feedback from the students confirms this. The pressure cooker - coaching frameworks is a bood means to create circumstnaces to actively learn and improve skills in a controlled way. Based on the (over 150) reflection reports we can conclude that this course gives triggers for further development of the graduates in this field and helps the new professional to recognise potential incidents, problems, conflicts in their new working environment and to link that to appropriate theory and tools to deal with these situations. We think that this 'pressure cooker - coaching' framework is broadly applicable, and is at least successful enough to continue its application in the CME programme.


The coaching aspect is very important as the course (i.e. the case assignment) is intensive and requires a lot from the students. Becouse the course requires a lot from the students. Becoause the course requires a lot of self-organising and self-initiative from the students the consensus among our peers is that this framework is not applicable for undergraduates.

Practical outcomes

See the article at the downloads.