Educação Superior● 2022
Pilot courses on “Life Cycle Assessment of Construction”
The candidate become an expert on the environmental and economic Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of materials, assemblies and buildings (LCA of Construction) after completing his PhD in this area in 2012. After that, in 2015, there was an increasing interest of the students that the candidate was supervising, and of other MSc and PhD students of the Department of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Georesources (DECivil), in this area of knowledge and research, since it allows the estimation of the impacts and costs of the activities of the construction sector that they need to consider in their theses. However, there was no training offer that could meet this demand. For that reason, the candidate organized in 2016 the 1st pilot course in “LCA of Construction”, with the participation of 6 trainees,
in the classrooms of DECivil. This course, organised and participated in a voluntary basis by the candidate and the trainees, respectively, was mainly taught by the candidate as the responsible Professor, complemented by expert presentations from Eng. Ana Silva and Eng. Vera Durão, the latter being also a trainee of this course. This course had a total of 20 hours of theoretical-practical training. This innovative techno-scientific knowledge was integrated for the first time in a course in Portugal. To answer the continuous demand, and given the success of the 1st edition, two more pilot editions of this course were organised by the candidate:
- in 2018, with the same duration and with the participation of 14 trainees, also in the classrooms of DECivil. The expert presentations were made by Eng. Vera Durão, Eng. Martha Demertzi (trainee of this course) and Eng. Rawaz Kurda (trainee of the 1st edition);
- in 2020, with the same duration but totally online, and with the participation of 10 trainees. The expert presentations were made by Eng. Vera Durão and Eng. Rawaz Kurda, the latter live streaming from Iraq.
The aim of the organisation of the referred pilot courses was to:
- train the maximum possible number of students and researchers from DECivil in-terested in this innovative techno-scientific area;
- test the syllabus, the structure and the evaluation methods, foreseeing:
2.1. its integration in the 2nd and 3rd cycles of study of the DECivil offer;
2.2. and its proposal as an advanced training course organised within FUNDEC/Técnico+.
30 trainees, with different backgrounds and including five non-Portuguese speaking students, participated in the three editions of this pilot course. Regarding objective 1, it was possible to test the knowledge that they acquired via an homework and three practical assignments that were developed by the students in groups of two, or individually, and corrected by the candidate. Moreover, the trainees filled a survey by the end of each edition of the course to express their opinion about the:
- syllabus, including suggestions for additional topics;
- organisation, duration and level of detail of the lectures, of each module and of the course;
- sufficiency of their background to follow the course;
- support and feedback given by the candidate;
- learning and teaching documents, including the presentations used in the lectures and the references suggested;
- duration and difficulty of the autonomous work required to follow and complete the course;
- difficulty, extension and scope of the practical assignments.
The answers confirmed that the course satisfactorily answered most of the expectations and the learning need of the trainees.
The experience of the candidate on teaching this course, along with the answers to the referred survey, allowed to accomplish objective 2. In fact, from the 1st to the 2nd edition, and from the 2nd to the 3rd one, some changes were made to the syllabus, to the structure and to the evaluation methods, in order to improve the course and following the lessons learned from the previous editions.
Objective 2.1 was accomplished by the integration of modules taught by the candidate, dedicated to “LCA of Construction”, and with:
- 14 hours, in a new elective course on “Construction Life Cycle” in the new MSc in Civil Engineering at IST from the academic year of 2021/22, in the 2nd quarter of the 2nd year of the Construction’s specialization area;
- 6 hours, in the course “Advanced Topics in Construction” of the PhD Course in Civil Engineering of DECivil of IST in the 2nd semester of the 2020/21 academic year.
Finally, and to accomplish objective 2.2, the candidate is preparing a proposal of an advanced training course in “LCA of Construction” to be organised within FUNDEC/Técnico+.
These 3 pilot courses were also a major contribution to the creation and development of the research group that the candidate coordinates (PositiveCyclegroup@CERIS), as well as a benefit to teaching innovation and quality.
Evaluation and Monitoring
One of the main contributions of the 30 trainees for these pilot courses corresponded to the opinions and suggestions that they provided in the survey distributed by the candidate, as referred in the previous section. That practice permitted the evaluation of the syllabus, structure and evaluation methods of each pilot course and the identification of potential improvement measures in the following edition. Based on that, and on the experience of the candidate on teaching this course, one of the changes that he decided to implement from the 2nd edition corresponded to a project-based learning approach, side-by-side with other active learning techniques and in line with IST recommendations (conselhopedagogi-co.tecnico.ulisboa.pt/files/sites/32/percist-ce_20maio-1.pdf – In Portuguese), being the lectures directed from the beginning to introduce LCA principles and procedures using a dedicated software that was bought by the research centre of the candidate, after recognising the importance and emergence of this research area. This approach is particularly suitable for an elective course like this one, in which the number of enrolled students is not expected to be very high. This permits a close interaction between the Professor and the students, with a better monitoring of their learning process.
These pilot courses offered therefore the opportunity for continuous improvement and fine-tuning of the course contents, organisation, and grading system, with active participation and recommendations by the students via final surveys. The methods of teaching and evaluation of this course were established in an articulated way in order to fulfil the goals set for this course.
A teaching and learning support document and supporting presentations (379 slides) for the classes were prepared in English by the candidate. He also prepared reference tables and schemes to distribute to the students, and schemes and detailed instructions to support the development of group assignments.
All course materials are already prepared for in person, remote or hybrid (with some students in the classroom and the remaining ones attending via a web-conference platform, e.g., zoom) modes, thus negating any limitations.
Innovative Character and Transferability
The area of this proposal in an emergent training area in which international reference Universities have increasingly created dedicated minors or courses. Moreover, the contents of this course can fulfil the training needs of students from seven MSc, and related PhD programmes, at IST, thus representing an important learning complement for a relevant and representative diversity of IST degrees. Regarding the existing offer of IST in related areas, there is a course on “Industrial Ecology” in the Mechanical and Environmental Engineering MScs, where LCA corresponds only to one out of five modules. Moreover, this course is not focused in the construction sector. In the Integrated MSc in Civil Engineering, there was a course on “Environmental and Sustainability Challenges in Engineering” in the 1st year of the 5-years degree. In line with the title, the content is significantly broad and introductory. In the same degree, there is also an elective course on “Built Environment and Impacts”, for the 5th-year students in the “Hydraulic and Water Resources” branch, but it does not include the LCA-related knowledge or applications.
This innovative techno-scientific knowledge was integrated for the first time in (pilot) courses in Portugal. The priority was to therefore to motivate autonomous working, but with immediate feedback from the candidate regarding the quality and correctness of the individual or group work developed by the students.
The three pilot courses that the candidate organised since 2016 with a similar title, scope and aim revealed the attractiveness of this knowledge area at national but also international level, and the feasibility of implementing a course with the syllabus, schedule and grading proposed. In fact, the first edition of the “Construction Life Cycle” course attracted 61% of Erasmus students.
These pilot courses were innovative not only due to their scope, but also because of the creation of a 10-minute interval in the middle of the 2-hour classes in which the candidate played a song related with the topics of the course in his computer and showed the corresponding lyrics in the screen. This practice fulfilled the expectations of the students, also permitting the simplification of some complex concepts.
The experience from the 3 pilot courses that allowed the accomplishment of the objectives described in this proposal can be replicated in other scientific areas following a similar process.