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Loughborough UniversityInstitutional RepositoryVirtual collaborativelearning for building designThis item was submitted to Loughborough University's Institutional Repositoryby the/an author.Citation: SOETANTO, R. ... et al., 2014. Virtual collaborative learningfor building design. United Kingdom, Proceedings of the Institution of CivilEngineers - Management, Procurement and Law, 167 (MP1), pp. 25 - 34.Additional Information: This article was published in the journal, Proceedings of the ICE - Manage-ment, Procurement and Law [ c Thomas Telford Ltd.] and the website isat: Permission isgranted by ICE Publishing to print one copy for personal use. Any otheruse of these PDF files is subject to reprint fees.Metadata Record: PublishedPublisher: c Thomas Telford Ltd.Please cite the published version. item was submitted to Loughboroughs Institutional Repository ( by the author and is made available under the following Creative Commons Licence conditions. For the full text of this licence, please go to: Virtual collaborative learning forbuilding design&1 Robby Soetanto PhDSchool of Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University,Leicestershire, UK&2 Mark Childs PhDDepartment of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Building, CoventryUniversity, UK&3 Paul Poh PhDDepartment of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto,Ontario, Canada&4 Stephen Austin MScDepartment of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Building, CoventryUniversity, UK&5 Jane Hao PhDDepartment of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto,Ontario, Canada1 2 3 4 5A building design project that requires civil engineering students in the UK and architectural students in Canada tocollaborate virtually has been implemented at universities in the two countries. The aims were to obtain a greaterunderstanding of the process, strategies and expected outcomes for a more effective implementation of problem-based learning to hone communication and teamwork skills. Data were obtained from a series of interviews with 23students from seven groups, assessment results of 249 participating and non-participating students, and studentevaluation. The findings suggest that the professional ethos of the groups and the consequent building of trust is thegreatest factor in supporting successful collaborations. This has been found to be able to overcome many barriersrelated to technology and differences of culture, language, time zone and tasks. However, the activity did not seem tohave any impact on student performance, but has improved the project management skills of participating students.The activity has also contributed positively to increasing student satisfaction. Several lessons for futureimplementation are presented, before limitations and further research are described.1. IntroductionIncreasing competition and shortage of resources haveencouraged the use of globally distributed teams in the designand development of construction projects. Communicationover a distance has further exaggerated the challenge andcomplexity of collaboration between multidisciplinary andfragmented parties involved in the projects. Nevertheless,seamless communication and harmonious relationshipsbetween parties are considered the key requisites to moreeffective and efficient delivery to achieve better projectoutcomes (Korkmaz and Singh, 2012). Built environment(BE) professionals are expected to work in globally dispersedteams across different time zones and cultures (RAE, 2007),and communication and teamwork skills are therefore now thekey skills that employers seek in future BE graduates. RoyalAcademy of Engineering reports, for example, indicate thatemployers emphasise the importance of combined technicalskills with social and interpersonal skills that meet industryneeds (Lamb et al., 2010; Spinks et al., 2006). Students are wellaware of this increased need, and value opportunities to learnthese employability skills, which can offer them a competitiveadvantage in the job market. For higher educational institu-tions, this represents a challenge as well as an opportunity toincorporate virtual collaborative learning into the curricula,which will not only equip students with important employ-ability skills but also enhance their engagement and experience.As an emerging area, it is not fully understood how BEeducators can do this and what impact virtual collaborationhas on student performance and experience.A research project has been initiated to address this challengeby conducting a quasi-experimental explorative study of amultidisciplinary, distanced collaboration in a building designproject that simulates real industry practice to address theManagement, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learning for buildingdesignSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin and HaoProceedings of the Institution of Civil EngineersManagement, Procurement and Law 167 February 2014 Issue MP1Pages 2534 1300002Received 08/01/2013 Accepted 27/09/2013Keywords: buildings, structures & design/education & training/projectmanagementice | proceedings ICE Publishing: All rights reserved25questions of what factors influence the success of virtualcollaborative learning and the impact of this on studentperformance and experience. The project involved groups ofstudents in two BE departments: one in the UK and the otherin Canada. The students formed groups comprising civil/structural engineering students in the UK and architecturestudents in Canada. The groups worked on the project, basedon a real case study, for a whole academic year (September2011 to May 2012). This paper reports the findings of thisinvestigation, which were obtained from a database ofqualitative and quantitative data, including: interviews with23 participants from seven groups; individual and group marksof 249 (participating and non-participating) students in thefirst and second phases of the project; and student evaluationobtained from module questionnaire survey. The followingsection presents a synthesis of relevant literature in team-basedlearning.2. Collaborative learning in design projectsCollaborative learning is a term that encompasses all team-based, project-based and problem-based learning approachesin which learners work together in a small group to achieve acommon objective (Becerik-Gerber et al., 2012; Dillenbourg,1999). In BE education, collaborative learning is not new andhas been a part of BE courses around the world (Shrivastava,2013; Tucker and Rollo, 2006). Barry et al. (2012) describethe development of the capstone design course in PurdueUniversity, which has been team taught since the early 1960s.There are some recent examples, such as Bhandari et al. (2011),Peterson et al. (2011), Soibelman et al. (2011), Wolcott et al.(2011), Korkmaz (2012) and Stanford et al. (2013). Theirimplementation varies considerably with different objects ofdesign (e.g. building, road and other infrastructure projects),supporting technologies (synchronous and asynchronous),composition (e.g. single discipline with participants from onecourse, multiple disciplines with participants from differentcourses) and locations of team members (e.g. co-located,distributed), previous training (e.g. on the use of collaborativetechnologies and software, such as AutoCAD) and educationlevels (e.g. undergraduate or postgraduate). Some designprojects were implemented within one institution, which makespossible regular offline communication between students (e.g.Barry et al., 2012; Tucker and Rollo, 2006). However, there arefewer examples of collaborative learning that involves colla-boration between geographically distributed multidisciplinarymembers from two or more institutions, such as Fruchter(1999), Hussein and Pena-Mora (1999), OBrien et al. (2003)and Becerik-Gerber et al. (2012).Fruchter (1999) developed a multidisciplinary and geographi-cally distributed learning environment involving six universitieswith information technology toolkits to support collaborativeworking across six iterations. Hussein and Pena-Mora (1999)conducted an experiment for assessing the interaction betweenmembers of geographically distributed teams and theirsupporting collaborative technologies. They highlighted fourmajor considerations in the development of collaborativelearning environments, namely technology infrastructure,group dynamics, incentives and evaluation and feedback.OBrien et al. (2003) implemented a collaborative designcourse involving graduate students from two institutions withemphasis on the development of process designs for theintegration of technology into the work of a multidisciplinarydesign team. Becerik-Gerber et al. (2012) describe theexperiences, learning outcomes and lessons learnt from acollaborative design course with students from two institu-tions, which involved virtual collaboration between distributedteam members.In most of these studies, questionnaire surveys were adminis-tered to obtained students opinions of their experience and theeffectiveness of the process. However, as the surveys wereadministered to a limited number and cohort of students, theeffectiveness of the approaches and impact on studentperformance and skills over a longer period of time is difficultto assess (Becerik-Gerber et al., 2012). Given the variability oftheir implementations and focuses, lessons learnt are often notdirectly applicable and comparable for a different context.Furthermore, OBrien et al. (2003) and Becerik-Gerber et al.(2012) found that remote collaboration is not always successfuland is often less effective than face-to-face offline meetings.Therefore, a greater understanding of barriers to collaborationin geographically distributed teams, the mechanisms andstrategies that facilitate the implementation process and theimpact on student performance is required for a more effectiveimplementation of this distributed collaborative learning. Asstated previously, this study aimed to contribute knowledge inthis area by addressing two key research questions: what arethe factors influencing the success of virtual collaborativelearning, and what is the impact on student performance andexperience? As an initial point to address these questions, thefollowing section explains a model for virtual collaborativelearning.3. A model of virtual collaborative learningWhen two or more people are collaborating to achieve acommon project objective, they are engaged in a communica-tion in which effectiveness relies on the success of bridging thetransactional distance between these parties. Transactionaldistance is defined as the psychological distance that existsbetween people when communicating (Barrett, 2002: p. 36),and is noticed particularly in online environments becauseit can be increased by the lack of responsiveness of the envi-ronment (or of others within the environment) and trans-parency of the medium (Wheeler, 2007: pp. 111112). Thetheory of transactional distance addresses the psychologicalManagement, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learningfor building designSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin andHao26separation between two people in any dialogue (in theexamples given by Moore (1993) between tutor and student),and can be described as a series of constraints of which thetechnology and geographical distance are only additionalelements that arise when that communication is mediated bymeans of technology. Furthermore, the theory argues thatmany of these constraints exist in face-to-face communication,such as the personalities and philosophies of the participants,their skill at communication and the content of the dialogue(Moore, 1993: pp. 2830). For example, nodding, smiling andother non-verbal behaviours such as eye contact and gaze arebehaviours that reduce transactional distance in that theycreate a sense of rapport between two people (Wheeler, 2007:p. 111). Defining the sets of characteristics that give rise totransactional distance in such a way is useful in an analysis ofvirtual teamwork in that it normalises the problems andcomplexities that arise in these forms of activities. Therecognition that psychological distance occurs when peopleare meeting face to face as well as when mediated bytechnology means that, although distanced communicationintroduces technological constraints and geographical dis-tance, these only act to increase a separation that alreadyexists. The technological constraints of the technology aretherefore only those that tend to be focused on byparticipants, because they are ones to which we are notaccustomed, and are not necessarily the dominant ones(Childs, 2010: p. 54).The finding of the literature review and the theory oftransactional distance has been adopted to inform thedevelopment of a model of virtual collaborative learning,presented in Figure 1. The input, process, output modelsummarises the combination of issues related to inputs oflearning, process of learning, and outputs or impact within thevirtual collaboration environment. In this model, the notion oftransactional distance constitutes the input to the act ofcollaboration, indicating a range of barriers or distances thatneed to be overcome to form an effective collaboration.Process within the model is the adaptation and activities thatact on the input. Here, the students adopt a set of behavioursand activities that bridge this separation. The model groupsthese processes under the heading of alignment strategies,which refer to either the students observations of how the twogroups are aligned, or the process by which they brought thetwo groups into greater alignment. Peer assessment (using anonline Web-PA system, see Wilkinson and Lamb (2010) for adescription) and tutor intervention provide a behaviouralcontrol or moderator to student performance, and areessential elements of the project. Of utmost importance isthe level of trust, which represents a distinct influence on theprocess with a two-way arrow. This indicates its impact on thesuccess of the collaboration process, which in turn will enhancethe level of trust (or reduce the level of trust, if the process isunsuccessful). The final state is the output; here the outputsthat the students and educators valued were the impact theactivity had on a range of short-term and long-term aspects,such as employability and personal development, and theirperformance. Short-term aspects were assessed immediatelyduring and after the process when the students works orpresentations are marked, and from the student evaluation bymeans of a module questionnaire survey. The model demon-strates the interplay between different influences of virtualInputChallenge/barriers:DistanceMotivationDifferences: disciplinary,cultural, timezone,language, geographicalseparation, internet access/bandwidth, IT literacy ProcessAlignment strategies:appropriate technology,schedule, work pattern,clarity of objectives,submission deadline Output Performance short-term:student evaluation,tutor marks/gradesresults of peer assessment Impact at personal level long-term: professional skills,future employment, addedvalue for CV Peer assessmentTutor intervention ModeratorTrustFigure 1. A model of virtual collaborative learning (after Soetantoet al., 2012 with modifications)Management, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learningfor building designSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin andHao27collaborative learning effectiveness for possible interventionstrategies and is considered a framework to guide the researchprocess.4. Design task and procedure of group workIn the collaborative design project, which lasted one academicyear, students worked in groups to undertake tasks that werederived to meet the requirements of a project brief. The briefwas developed by the tutors involved, based on a future plan ofa new academic building. The key requirement of the brief wasto develop new accommodation for academic activities, whichmust be flexible, sustainable and adaptable to meet thedemands of new ways of teaching, learning and research. Thebrief included: a description of the purposes of the building;requirements of facilities (e.g. rooms, area, environmentalaspects); site location and constraints (relationships with theexisting buildings, roads and facilities in the surrounding area);requirements of group formation and work process (regularmeetings, group leadership, meeting minutes); assessment oftasks with detailed requirements for two project phases (i.e. aconceptual design phase in the first term and a detailed designand tendering phase in the second term); and online peerassessment using the Web-PA system. In addition to these,design guidance on building standards, structural design codes,posters and presentations were also provided.The UK students studied civil and structural engineering,whereas the Canadian students studied architecture. Groups offour students were formed in each participating university.After reviewing the tasks in the project brief, each group wasasked to identify their relevant technical skills, people manage-ment skills (such as leadership, teamwork, communication)and previous experience, and then develop one A2-sized posterto showcase these skills and other attributes. The groupsreviewed posters developed by the groups in the otherinstitution, for negotiating and agreeing with a counterpartgroup for the formation of a team with the strongestcomplementary skills and experience.The teams in the same location conducted weekly meetings,and appointed a leader and secretary. These roles were rotatedevery 5 weeks, so that each member had the opportunity toundertake the responsibilities. They also held regular meet-ings with their counterparts in the other institutions. Theycommunicated through various means, but commonly usedDropbox for file sharing, Skype and e-mail for synchronousand asynchronous communication. The minutes of the meet-ings were assessed as a part of the overall module mark. Theassessment of the conceptual design phase was weighted 40%,and the detailed design and tendering phase 60% of the overallmodule mark. The marking scheme combined individual andgroup marks for each task. The individual marks were derivedfrom the assessment of the task that the individual wasresponsible for. The group marks were peer-assessed using theWeb-PA system, which provides a moderation mechanism toconsider an individuals contribution fairly.5. Research methodsThe research consisted of both quantitative and qualitativeresearch methods as this mixed approach was considered to bean effective way to conduct an explorative study in that bothin-depth rich data could be gained from the interviews andlarge-scale data could be gathered from conducting the surveysacross the whole cohort. Furthermore, the two alternativemethods of data capture would provide triangulation for thefindings (Merriam, 1998: p. 204). Data were collected from aseries of interviews, a module evaluation questionnaire andmarks for both participating and non-participating students.Non-participating students were those students on the samemodule who had opted to work co-located with students fromthe same institution, and were used as a control group forcomparison. Data collection was guided by the model ofvirtual collaborative learning (Figure 1), in order to capture anumber of important aspects of virtual collaboration (e.g.barriers, trust, alignment strategies, outputs and impacts)throughout two project phases. In particular, the interviewswere intended to explore behaviours and practices that led tosuccessful and not successful collaborations.5.1 Group interviewsThe interviews with 23 participating students from sevengroups (for the purposes of the analysis, named groups A, B,C, D, E, F and G) were intended to interrogate issues andproblems encountered and to provide understanding of thecontext within which the project took place. The unstructuredinterviews were conducted with the groups at different timesduring the course of the project. The students were askedgeneral and specific questions regarding their project. Generalquestions were asked concerning how the students were gettingon with the project, and any issues that may have preventedtheir work. Specific questions covered aspects such ascollaborative technologies used, the interaction betweendistributed teams, issues of trust and barriers to collaboration,guided by the model in Figure 1. Interviewing students in theirgroup enabled the capture of richer, more comprehensive andobjective views of their experience, as one issue raised could bediscussed with the others during the conversation. One groupinterview lasted approximately one half-hour. The interviewswere recorded and then transcribed verbatim.5.2 Assessment resultsThe marking scheme for the project combined group andindividual marks. The group mark was derived from the groupformation tasks (including the poster, written report on groupstrategy and time management), presentations, group reportstructure and teamwork. The group mark was then peer-assessed.Management, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learningfor building designSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin andHao28An individual mark was obtained from the assessment of tasksthat each student was responsible for. Group and individualmarks were obtained from each phase that will allow comparisonsbetween the first and second phases to identify any improve-ments. Individual and group marks of 249 (35 participating and214 non-participating) students were obtained for the first andsecond phases in the UK institution. To address the question ofwhat was the impact on student performance of conducting theexercise with distanced teams, the t test was used to compare theperformance of participating and non-participating students (as acontrol group), and their performance in the first and secondphases.5.3 Module evaluation questionnaireAs part of university policy, the delivery of teaching, learningand support services is monitored through the administrationof a module evaluation questionnaire to both participating andnon-participating students during the last session of theacademic year. The questionnaire assessed different aspectsof the module, including the performance of the tutor, moduledelivery, provision of information, supports to learning, timingof classes and coursework release and submission, assessmentand feedback. The anonymous responses obtained wereanalysed quantitatively. For the purpose of student evaluation,one statement (judged to be the most telling) was chosen as thekey criterion. This was the overall quality of this module issatisfactory. The students were asked to indicate their level ofagreement on a five-point scale representing definitely agree,mostly agree, neither disagree nor agree, mostly disagreeand definitely disagree against this statement. As this criterionused in the questionnaire was identical in the previous andcurrent academic years, the responses obtained can becompared, and provide a useful indicator of how the virtualcollaboration has impacted the student evaluation.6. Results and discussionsThe seven groups that were analysed for their experience ofvirtual teamwork were assigned the categories successful andnot successful collaborations, with the intention of observingdifferences in behaviour and practice between the two types ofgroup. In reality, the collaborations did not sit at the end ofthese two polarities, but on a continuum. The placing withinthese groups was determined by the researchers based on twocriteria: whether the students themselves identified particularissues with their working relationship with the other team, andwhether the number of quotes referring to distances anddifferences or those that referred to alignments predominated.In all, groups A, D, E and G were characterised as successfulcollaborations; groups B and C as not successful. Group F,lying in the middle of these, was characterised as partlysuccessful. In the transcript, the groups descriptions of theirexperiences were broken down into discrete statements, whichwere then manually coded. Statements assigned the same codewere grouped together into a single category and theexperience they described was synthesised to identify commontraits. Each category was then placed into either input(distancing factors), trust, process (alignment factors) oroutput (performance and impact factors) clusters as shown inFigure 1. These clusters and their subsidiary categories, withaccompanying descriptions, are shown below and summarisedin Figure 2.6.1 Distancing factorsSome distancing factors were common to all groups, someonly to specific groups. The distancing characteristic thatwas common to all groups was the mismatched schedules.Because of the timetable of activities, the Canadian studentsbegan their activities before the UK students, and endedbefore them too.The distancing factors affecting only some groups includedtechnology, disciplinary difference, task difference anddifferences in standards between the two countries. Thegroups that found technological issues had problems withinternet connections and encountered frustrations with notbeing able to conduct multipoint communication in Skype.Another factor creating distance was the different disciplinesinvolved (i.e. architecture and civil engineering). One groupnoted that some of the issues they were encountering wereno different from those that their colleagues engaged in face-to-face collaboration with UK-based architects were facing.Groups reported that the students in Canada had been set verydifferent tasks. However, only one group had encountered anyconfusion due to different standards across the two countries.6.2 Trust and professional ethos in distancedcollaborationThe single factor that all those collaborations that wereunsuccessful had in common, and was different to thosecollaborations that were successful, was the attitude toprofessional behaviour displayed (in their perception) by theteam at the other end. Both groups B and C had experiencedproblems with their experience of the work ethos of the team atthe other end. Conversely, group F admitted that the fault layon both sides, neither side always meeting their commitmentson time, which they attributed to the mismatch in schedules.This failure to meet commitments was despite an excellent startas far as project management practice is concerned, in that theyshared expectations and goals, and overall their opinion of thegroup at the other end was positive. One area in which evensome of the successful groups struggled was in the attitudeto different goals and tasks. As the students observed, aprofessional outlook requires people to make efforts to meetthe objectives of other members of the organisation, not justtheir own. However, not all groups worked towards a commongoal of completing the project, instead they focused on theirManagement, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learningfor building designSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin andHao29own individual objectives. Others did not struggle to achievethis higher level of collaboration, for example group Greported that they would: find some stuff on sustainabilitythat might be of interest to them (their counterpart team), andput it in, have a look at it, might be interesting. Just help themout, we are a group at the end of the day.The consequence of a lack of professional ethos had a greaterimpact due to the distanced nature of the collaboration,because the students had no recourse to alternative supportiveforms of interaction. Although the distanced nature of theinteraction is not a problem for those with a successfulcollaboration, it permits a range of additional concerns to arisewhen communication is taking place within an unsuccessfulcollaboration. For example, for group B, the fact that theyonly met for an hour a week, and the work at the other sidecould not be constantly monitored, became an issue. Theincreasing lack of trust was noted by the other team with anunsuccessful collaboration (group C), and was responded toby a similar desire to reciprocate with the withholding ofinformation. It was specifically the distanced nature of thecollaboration that exacerbated this breakdown in trust;because the other team could not be observed outside of thebrief Skype meetings, this meant that there was an opportunityfor doubts and suspicions to develop further.The root of this breakdown in trust was essentially a failure toproduce work to time. The successful collaborations built truston the basis of a cycle of incrementally increased fulfilment oftasks. When the majority of the collaboration is successful, andthe perception of the team at one end is that the team at theother is taking a professional approach to their work, thenother distancing factors become less problematical. Forexample, technological problems, such as internet interrup-tions, are overlooked or adjusted to in successful collaboration;in unsuccessful ones, it is identified as disruptive. Evenmismatches in task briefs were more easily overcome, orovercome with more confidence, if both groups of studentsbehaved with a professional attitude, as were mismatches inschedules. This finding suggests two cycles, one of increasingtrust and commitment, and one of diminishing trust andcommitment to the collaboration, which is depicted inFigures 3 and 4.6.3 Alignment factors that predominatedNo single alignment factors were identified across all thegroups; the most common factor noted by most of the groupswas the technological platforms adopted. All groups usedSkype for regular synchronous communication and Dropboxfor sharing of information. E-mail correspondence was used byall the groups to schedule meetings and notify the other groupof when information was loaded to Dropbox, and e-mail wasPerformance in meetingsProfessional ethos in fulfilling tasksContributing to each others goalsBreakdown exacerbated by distanceAcquiring professional skillsImproving CV/resumeMaking task easierFactors affecting trustImpact factorsVirtual teamworkingDistancing factorsTechnologyMeeting scheduleRecognising difference as strengthExchange of informationStructure of teamsMismatched schedulesTechnologyDisciplinary differenceTask differenceDifferences in standardsAlignmentFigure 2. A summary of the different influences on virtualteamwork identified from the interviews with the learnersDiminishingtrust Reducedcommitmenttocollaboration Lack ofprofessionalethosGreaterreliance onotheralignments Failure tocompletetasks to time Figure 3. A cycle of decreasing collaboration in virtualteamworkingManagement, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learningfor building designSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin andHao30still the preferred technology for communicating importantand detailed information. The students familiarity withvideoconferencing greatly aided this alignment. For manystudents, the use of Skype was very natural, to the extent thatone group referred to meeting this way as face to face (byunsuccessful group B). It seems that technical alignment, forthis cohort of students, is a given, and on its own does notenable effective collaboration.Another alignment factor commonly referred to by the groupswas the creation of an aligned schedule of tasks and meetings.A typical schedule for meeting was a Skype call once a week,sometimes twice. The more successful collaborations adoptedthe flexibility of additional meetings when required. Flexibilitywas also important for the meeting structure and length.Adjusting the type of contact depending on the need and theproject phase was also a factor employed by the successfulgroups, and being able to make decisions about how to solveproblems and make decisions (i.e. meta-decision-making) iswidely recognised as a highly useful practice in effectivecollaborations. Having a process by which the collaborationcan come to a decision about the length of meetings andappropriate schedules for these appears to have made adifference to these groups.A factor that indicated a positive position on collaboration,and one adopted by the majority of groups, was that ofrecognising the complementary nature of the two skills sets (i.e.architecture and civil engineering), and how the overallcollaboration was stronger as a consequence of this and, asnoted above, provision of help in achieving the other partysgoals (as explained earlier) is an indicator of a highly successfulcollaboration. Examples of this collaborative attitude towardsthe exchange of information are close attention to theinformation given by the other group, clarity of requests forinformation, offering of information and provision of anamount of information above the required minimum in theexpectation that it may be of use.Arranging meetings through Skype with the other end didnot appear to be particularly problematical for the groups.More problematical were the difficulties in arranging all ofthe near side team to be able to attend the meeting. This wasparticularly difficult for group F because they were part-time students. The groups found different solutions to thecomplexity of having two groups of four people all col-laborating. One solution was to structure the activities so thatonly one person works with their opposite member tocomplete that task. Another solution was to appoint a singleperson, or two people, to represent each group at the meetingsand have them coordinate the activity with their co-locatedgroups. A third solution was to break down into more detailthe tasks between the two groups, so that individual memberscould work more independently. This third strategy, however,undermines the very idea of team collaboration. Commonly,the students immediately split their tasks into severalchunks of work that was to be shared with the individualmembers.6.4 Performance and impactMost of the participants referred to the fact that they had beendrawn to doing the collaborative activity because they thoughtit would be interesting. In addition, the ability to work withother nationalities at a distance was thought to be an intrinsicpart of their professional career as civil engineers, and thisactivity would provide a work-like experience that wouldprepare them for this sort of activity. Typical statements wereIt gives you a simulated experience of working in the industry(group F) and it shows you a picture into a real life, forexample architects will give you a design whatever (group G).That it would look good on their CVs was also an attractiveprospect for most of the participants; the experience wasparticularly prized because it was thought to be a rare one, andso it would give them a greater competitive advantage whenlooking for work. Finally, one group (but only one)commented that actually conducting this collaboration at adistance, rather than with another local group of architects,was preferable because it was actually easier. Group Fcommented It is probably easier. Some of the groups Ivespoken to that are working with other UK students, they seemto have more problems than we do.The analysis of assessment results suggests that there are nosignificant differences in individual and group marks betweenparticipating and non-participating students, and between thefirst and second phases. However, participating studentsappear to be better in developing a plan for monitoring,GreatercooperationReliance onotheralignmentsdiminishesCompletionof tasks totimeGreatertrustProfessionalethosFigure 4. A cycle of increasing collaboration in virtual teamworkingManagement, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learningfor building designSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin andHao31controlling and coordinating their work with the other teammembers (t test, p 5 0?054). In this task, each member mustsubmit a report outlining the tasks that they will undertakeduring their assignment, and how this work will be monitoredand controlled so that it coordinates with the rest of theteam.The analysis of the key indicator of student evaluationindicates that overall satisfaction with the module from bothparticipating and non-participating students had actuallyincreased. In particular, the proportion of students who chosedefinitely agree or mostly agree responses on a statement ofthe overall quality of this module is satisfactory had increasedfrom 64% to 81%, an increase of 17% from the previous year.While it may be difficult to delineate different factorscontributing to this significant increase, the activity and otherplanned improvements resulting from the project implementa-tion (including unintentionally greater attention and effortfrom all staff involved) have undoubtedly contributed to thisincreased level of satisfaction.7. ConclusionA model of virtual collaborative learning has been developedto explore factors that may influence the effectiveness of virtualteamwork through a simulated learning environment wherestudents work on a real case study project. The analysis of theinterviews, student performance and evaluation indicates a setof key considerations regarding the barriers, success factorsand outcomes/impacts that occur when teams work acrossdistances, described as follows.& The mismatching in schedules at the two sites, the perceiveddifference in the tasks set and the fact that the team was avirtual one did not have an impact on the teams that werecollaborating successfully. Those teams that collaboratedsuccessfully managed to work around these issueseffectively with little problem. Thus, the virtual teamworkmode was not a barrier to teamwork.& The single greatest factor in supporting successfulcollaborations was the professional ethos of the groupsand the consequent building of trust. Students whocompleted tasks on time and performed effectively inmeetings built trust and increased the collaborative natureof the teamwork. Attitude to collaboration was thereforethe defining variable in whether a collaboration waseffective. As all groups chose the same technologies andsome were successful and some were not, the technologydoes not appear to be a defining variable.& Effective collaborative teams also display meta-decision-making processes and openly and frequently shareinformation. All teams had a regular schedule of meet-ings; however, only the most collaborative teamsadopted the flexibility to add additional meetings whenthese were required, and would vary the style and lengthof meetings to meet the needs. Also, only the mosteffective collaborators shared all information just incase rather than keeping information to the level of thatdemanded.& Students felt that the activity would have a positive impacton their employability as they obtained an internationalcollaboration experience. That there were no significantdifferences in performance between participating and non-participating students, and between first and second phases,was somewhat surprising; however, participating studentsappear to have learnt from the first phase to develop abetter plan for monitoring, controlling and coordinatingtheir work with others in the second phase. That is, theexperience of virtual collaboration has elevated participat-ing students project management skills. The activity hasalso contributed positively to increasing studentsatisfaction.Specific lessons that need to be considered when incorporatingvirtual teamwork activities into a course are as follows.& Students from either site are made more aware of theimportance of meeting deadlines and fulfilling taskrequirements. In addition, schedules and tasks must matchas closely as possible. Meeting the objectives of the group atthe other end must be integrated into the objectives of thegroup at the near end (through peer assessment or someform of sharing of marks).& Virtual teamwork can be successful and can be problemfree. Most students have the familiarity and experience withthe required technologies to be able to make effectivechoices regarding them and the use of them.& Raising awareness of the importance of informationexchange and meta-decision-making will makecollaborations more effective in the future.& To ensure that a genuine collaboration takes place, theassignment tasks should be designed, based on a higher (i.e.reciprocal) level of task interdependency.& If virtual teamwork is optional for future cohorts,emphasising the preparation that this provides forinternational working in the construction industry, and thevalue potential employers will place on it, will encouragefuture uptake.The research presented here has several limitations. First, thefindings were obtained from one round of project activity (inone academic year), which does not allow further examinationof their validity and reliability. Second, other performancemeasures (such as assessments from industry practitioners) anddata over longer time series would need to be examined toassess the impact and their relationships with the influencingfactors. Third, inferences to the general (practitioners)Management, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learningfor building designSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin andHao32population should be drawn with caution, as practitioners mayhave more experience, and there are other influences in theworkplace. Despite these limitations, the research has providedinsights into factors that allow successful collaborations, andthe impacts of virtual collaborative learning. Future researchshould examine the findings with larger datasets, includingseveral rounds of project implementation, performance dataover longer time series. Future research should also assess thevalidity of skills obtained from this activity to industrypractice.AcknowledgementsThe authors wish to thank Hewlett Packard through theOffice of Global Social Innovation for funding this research,the International Society for Technology in Education andthe Global Collaboratory Consortium for facilitating theproject, and participants in the data collection. Specialthanks go to Dr Constantine Katsanis (Ecole de Tech-nologie Superieure, Montreal, Canada) for his involvementand contribution to the project. Thanks are due to all staffinvolved.REFERENCESBarrett S (2002) Overcoming transactional distance as a barrierto effective communication over the internet. InternationalEducational Journal 3(4): 3442 (Educational ResearchConference 2002 Special Issue).Barry BE, Drnevich VP, Irfanoglu A and Bullock D (2012)Summary of developments in the civil engineeringcapstone course at Purdue University. 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(2011) Model for faculty,student, and practitioner development in sustainabilityengineering through an integrated design experience.Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education andPractice 137(2): 94101.WHAT DO YOU THINK?To discuss this paper, please email up to 500 words to theeditor at Your contribution will beforwarded to the author(s) for a reply and, if consideredappropriate by the editorial panel, will be published asdiscussion in a future issue of the journal.Proceedings journals rely entirely on contributions sent inby civil engineering professionals, academics and stu-dents. Papers should be 20005000 words long (briefingpapers should be 10002000 words long), with adequateillustrations and references. You can submit your paperonline via,where you will also find detailed author guidelines.Management, Procurement and LawVolume 167 Issue MP1Virtual collaborative learningfor building designSoetanto, Childs, Poh, Austin andHao34 1Figure 2Figure 3Figure 4Reference 1Reference 2Reference 3Reference 4Reference 5Reference 6Reference 7Reference 8Reference 9Reference 10Reference 11Reference 12Reference 13Reference 14Reference 15Reference 16Reference 17Reference 18Reference 19Reference 20Reference 21Reference 22Reference 23Reference 24Reference 25