Building Relationships through Collaboration

Presented by: Mia Kile, Ken Robson, and Hans Butzer

At the freshman level, Cultures of Collaborating, Creating, and Constructing is a large lecture class consisting of Architecture, Interior Design, Construction Science and Architectural Engineering students. In its third year, this course is team taught by Division Directors from Architecture, Interior Design, and Construction Science. The core of lectures, guest presentations, and projects are focused on collaboration as a critical force that helps leverage the skills of many individual professions to the benefit of the stakeholders. 

Statement of the Problem:
The challenge for this course is the engagement of students in a meaningful way that reinforces the course objectives while facilitating the focus of collaboration by building relationships within the class. Research involving undergraduate students found informal involvement among peers is shown to heighten academic engagement and social assimilation and increases persistence in their studies (Ethington, 2000; Tinto, 1997). Evidence indicates that when relationships are educationally connected rather than solely social, they enable enhanced learning outcomes for students (Lundberg, 2003). Two studies found that people are influenced in their choice of friends by proximity; that is, they made friends with those proximate to them (Schutte &Light, 1978; Sias &Cahill, 1997). Furthermore, studies also indicate that peer friendships cultivated when complications at work were experienced (Odden & Sias, 1997; Sias Cahill, 1997; Sias & Jablin, 1995). With this in mind, the course is structured to afford students four different team projects that foster collaboration.

This longitudinal study, focuses on one project adapted from a physics class and addresses issues faced by Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) in the real world – designing, estimating, scheduling and constructing a project.  Each team is challenged to construct a “cost-effective” skyscraper that can support a designated load, in this case a standard brick.  Students work in assigned teams with each discipline represented. Teams are required to submit drawings, an estimate, schedule, and test model using the designated materials and method of construction.  The skyscrapers are tested and evaluated for design, structural support, quality of construction, and cost.

This project has allowed the students the opportunity to work together to solve a somewhat complex problem. The students overall response to the assignment are positive. While some teams worked well together, others had to overcome minor obstacles such as accountability. Students realized that communication, distribution of effort, respect for others opinions, and listening skills are all very important factors for effective collaboration. Furthermore, students were found working together on projects and assignments in other courses because of this experience. 

Future Implications:
This class is the first of three courses that students enrolled in undergraduate programs will experience in our college. Next year a survey will be conducted with senior students who as freshmen had this course. The objective is to measure the impact of this course on the proceeding collaborative experiences and relationships. The aim is to provide students with skills that will help them successfully navigate collaborative experiences that are experienced through many professions in the built environment.


  • Ethington, C. A. (2000). Influences of the normative environment of peer groups on community college students’ perceptions of growth and development. Research in Higher Education, 41, 703–722.
  • Odden, C. M., & Sias, P. M. (1997). Peer communication relationships and psychological climate. Communication Quarterly, 45, 153–166.
  • Schutte, J. G., & Light, J. M. (1978). The relative importance of proximity and status for friendship choices in social hierarchies. Social Psychology, 41, 260–264.
  • Sias, P. M., & Cahill, D. J. (1997). From coworkers to friends: The development of peer friendships in the workplace. Western Journal of Communication, 62, 273–299.
  • Tinto, V. (1997). Classrooms as communities. The Journal of Higher Education, 68, 599–623.

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