Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Challenges in Integrating BIM into Higher Education

BIM will be a major aspect in the future of the construction industry I think that’s clear; I also feel that Higher Education will play a major part assisting to prepare Graduates with the relevant skills required. Is however, the current structure in place sufficient enough to provide the industry with BIM ready, or at least reasonably BIM skilled Graduates today though and if not what challenges may Higher Education face?

Sourced from- www.prospects.ac.uk

This week’s article will be looking at the challenges that Higher Education Institutes will or may be facing in the near future. BIM is clearly on the rise within the construction industry as covered in my previous article on BIM maturity levels, which referenced that according to the NBS National BIM Survey 2013, 47% of you out there in the UK have already at some point reached BIM ‘Maturity Level 2’. But where do we really stand in education? With this in mind I’m going to be concentrating this week on Higher Education at an undergraduate level.

Looking across the spectrum of Higher Education in the UK it doesn’t take long to establish that there clearly are some institutions that are ahead of the game in regards to BIM content and courses. This is at least true at Post-Graduate level, with an increasing number of Higher Education institutes offering BIM courses at Masters Level, with a selection of institutions beginning to offer some BIM content at undergraduate level as well but not as prevalent. It is at undergraduate level that personally I feel needs to be improved in the majority of cases.

To look at the challenges which we may face I’ve very loosely utilised a framework which was initially developed by Charles Hopkins (2006), which has been worked on and developed over a number of year looking at the ‘Challenges and Barriers to Education for Sustainable development (ESD)’. Even though the framework developed by Hopkins was focusing on the challenges faced by ESD, many of the issues identified are applicable to the challenges that will be faced in the adoption of BIM in education. I’ve took this base and then run with it! 

One of the first challenges I feel will be to increase the awareness of BIM amongst the existing teaching staff within institutions. If BIM is to be developed and integrated into undergraduate courses then members of staff who may not be directly impacted by BIM still need to be made aware of it and understand why institutions are pushing forward in the direction of BIM. Additional to this more specialised individual professional learning will more than likely be required by staff to ensure that all those involved in the delivery of BIM are competent and understand what they are preaching. This may sound like an obvious point but one I feel needs highlighting. This is an area where I feel government needs to work together with Education institutes and cohesively come up with and progress a clear plan which can then be rolled out and communicated to all Higher Education Universities and Colleges teaching Built Environment courses.

The next issue concerns how BIM is integrated across the Built Environment curriculum. Personally I feel that all construction students should at least leave university with an awareness of what BIM actually is and what it means to them; not only as an individual but also as a part in the overall spectrum of the industry. The difficulty will be in ensuring that the differing disciplines who are studying in their fields of expertise gain the appropriate amount of skills which are needed, beyond that of an initial ‘BIM awareness’. This is something which needs to be continually developed and accessed as BIM in the industry naturally develops, education should follow suit and adapt its processes to ensure that Graduates are leaving with the right skills.

Another issue in teaching BIM is dealing with the complexity of some BIM concepts.  It is paramount that the skills and theory that are to be taught do not confuse students more than when they started. When something is hard to define it can also be difficult to teach, an aspect which BIM can be guilty of on occasion! Teaching needs to be clear that BIM goes beyond that of the 3D model, with efficient information sharing a critical factor which needs to be adopted and understood.

Another challenge to be considered will be how far should, and could current courses be changed in regards to integrating BIM. Built Environment courses are set up carefully to cover many specific learning outcomes which are required to ensure that the courses have content within them that is education and industry applicable. One of the major issues which Higher Education institutes face is the congestion of courses. There a lot of content which already exists in specific courses which quite simply can’t be removed as the timetables are designed in such a way to cover discipline and accreditation content requirements which are generally clearly set out and defined.  Currently there is a lack of knowledge in regards to BIM which prevents clear standardised accreditation; once this is achieved or defined it may make it easier to incorporate BIM into courses. The solution or challenge, depending how you look at it may be for education to integrate BIM seamlessly within the structure of existing courses and modules rather than attempting to create brand new BIM specific courses or modules which will directly compete for timetable space with existing modules.  
Sourced from- http://www.bimtaskgroup.org
An important criterion concerning the success of the adoption of BIM will be the sharing of the responsibilities. The adoption of BIM into an educational department cannot solely be the work of one BIM initiator, as experienced by many industry drivers in BIM’s early days. The correct framework and desire needs to be in place amongst all staff.  Support for BIM in education has to be provided right form the top down; through Government to university heads, department heads to lecturer’s and then dissipated from the lecturers to the students accordingly.  I feel a clearer path forward needs to be outlined by all parties on what Higher Education’s part will be in the integration of BIM across the construction industry, beyond that of ‘It has an important part to play’. This will ensure that everyone involved is pushing in the same direction, it’s no good education flying off with ideas and learning outcomes if it’s not what the Government, education or industry require. Education shouldn’t be solely designed to fulfil industry’s needs but it is part of Higher Education’s institutions responsibility to ensure that Graduates have a good chance of employability when they leave university, and if BIM is an industry required skill then it falls on education to assist in instilling this skill into their Graduates.  

To do this Higher Education institutes will need to continue to develop new ways of engaging students and improving their soft and hard skills, relevant to successful practice in a multi-disciplinary field of construction. The aim should be to teach more efficient design processes which lead to reduced costs and time whilst also enhancing student’s skills of design integration, analysis and collaboration.

The next steps for Higher Education should be to continue to develop new BIM integration strategies whilst at the same time continually assessing the effects of the current strategies that have been implemented. Is what we are teaching today sufficient? Personally I don’t think it is, at undergraduate level at least, but I do know first hand that big strides are happening across various universities who've adopted a progressive attitude towards how we teach BIM at undergraduate and post-graduate level which is a big step in the right direction. BIM will be a major aspect in the future of the construction industry I think that’s clear; I also feel that Higher Education can assist in preparing Graduates with the relevant skills and knowledge to be able to succeed within a continuously developing and collaborative industry. 

I’ve migrated to gain further control to expand the content; you can find my new polished website at;

Please feel free to come over and look at the new set up and design as well as the latest article on Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems for Green Roofs (SUDS).   The article is a follow up to the previous article on To Green of Not to Green? This article will be focusing more on the technical aspects, in particular Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, otherwise known as SUDS.

All the previous articles on architecture, tech and BIM are over at the new site

Thank you for visiting Architect-BIM and I hope you continue to follow us over at the new site- www.architect-bim.com

What challenges do you think Higher Education faces? Maybe you have first-hand knowledge of how you've succeeded in integrating BIM into you’re courses? Success’s or challenge’s; University Lecturer’s, Industry or Student’s, please feel free to comment with your thoughts below.

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

You can follow me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ArchitectureTechnologyBIM


  1. Ursula Rutherford3 April 2013 at 16:59

    Really interesting. You mention Charles Hopkins (2006) - can you give more detail, please?

  2. Hello Ursula, thank you for your comments. As far as I understand Charles Hopkins isn't directly involved in BIM. Charles work was in and around ESD and was invlolved in the 'Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit'. The link between BIM and the challenges predicted by the ESD was purely made by myself as the challenges appeared to naturally carry over between the two subject areas for the most part. The link below will lead you to the original ESD challenges - http://www.esdtoolkit.org/discussion/challenges.htm

    Thank you for reading

  3. As a former Revit instructor at a community college and a BIM implementation specialist, I have to I can't emphasize how important BIM education is! I also can't believe how little is being done now considering how strongly the industry has embraced the BIM trend. Of all of the educators and and graduates I have met, I have yet to find a course that teaches useful Revit techniques for those entering the workforce. This needs to be a top-down movement within institutions to provide educators with the proper background for teaching this information.

  4. Hello, thank you for your comment. It's a good point you raise, I do feel that education is lagging behind slightly in its adoption of BIM compared to that of industry, except for a few early forerunners. But then again much of the industry is lagging behind as well, so its not just education that needs to make the jump, industry needs to catch up with the leaders in BIM and the government targets as well.

    One of the issues with REVIT teaching currently is that generally its focused on within the architectural subjects and thus, modelling is a key focus and much of the wider REVIT/BIM skills are not featured. Personally I feel that the wider subject fields need to embrace BIM and BIM tools further such as the Construction Managers, Quantity Surveyors and Building Servicing Engineers etc. to name a few!

    Locally I know that this ethos is changing and such is that the wider BIM skills are going to be taught to a much greater extent over the next few years. Whether the wider education community adopts this same pro-active approach towards BIM I feel will be an extremely important factor in how smooth a transition the industry moves over to the specified and required BIM levels that have been set (Maturity Level 2 by 2016- UK) Government).

    As someone working in the industry today with close links to education in the past, what useful not only REVIT techniques but BIM skills in general do you feel should be taught in Built Environment courses today?

    Thank you

  5. Hi, Danny
    Saw your tweet and read the blog post. As a BIM enthusiast, I see it as part of wider-ranging change in industry culture and processes, and it is vital that students learn about collaborative working if they are to participate effectively in what is a fast-changing industry. The role of higher education is vital, and it is something that Constructing Excellence (http://www.constructingexcellence.org.uk) is trying to help with - it is organising a HE summit at BRE, Watford on 20 June and is keen to get widespread involvement from academics. Let me know if you want to know more (or send an email to Don Ward at CE).

    Kind regards - Paul

    1. Hi Paul, thank you for reading. Yes that sounds like a really interesting prospect. My personal email is dannymcgough7@gmail.com, if you could send me over any information that would be great.

      Thanks - Danny

    2. Hi Danny,

      Interesting article. I myself am an design graduate in architecture, and am currently looking for work within the industry here in Australia. What I have found with many of the employers is almost an expectation that you come away from university with the knowledge of at least one architectural program, and if you are lucky, it happens to be the one they are looking for (eg- recent graduate required- experience: 1.5 yrs Revit, or 1yr ArchiCAD). I'm not sure whether they are realistic expectation. Perhaps the firms are simply fishing for the dream candidate. Or maybe there are actually people that are organised enough to come out of an intense 5 yrs studying architecture with all the experience needed to jump straight into a job.

      There are still many practices, however, that still use primarily 2D drawing software like AutoCAD and Vectorworks. This is especially so in small firms, who don't necessarily have the funds or the consistent business to afford the costly 3D programs. An interesting viewpoint is that many university students will prefer to draw their project up likewise in 2D, on software that is easy to use, and then transfer their projects onto more powerful and creative programs such as Rhino3D, or Sketchup.

      I do not think that we should be committing time and resources to teaching just one program, when architects and students have a whole breadth of programs to learn and use, each with its own strengths and weaknesses- the program of choice usually ends up being the one of personal preference. University and higher education courses focus should remain one of producing ideas, allowing for creativity, analysis and critical thinking, and keep away from systems that lock you in to a particular mode of production with a similar end result.

      Like you say, universities have a tough time teaching a packed curriculum through the year, and what would be tough is constantly updating the mode of teaching to the rapidly updating technology. By the time a student leaves university, the system may have completely changed. Once they leave, they simply join the milieu of people who need to learn these systems 'on the job'

      Let me know what you think.

  6. Danny - we should talk. We've introduced BIM at KS3 (11-14). Now writing the Level 2 and 3 for KS4 and KS5, and working closely with four UK universities to ensure the smooth transition. It's about the underlying principles (and the kids get the technology anyway!).

    Give me a call if you wish - 07903 704599.

    Alison Watson, Class Of Your Own


Please feel free to comment, I will read all comments and topics for discussion.