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Curriculum development for an inquiry approach to construction education.

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University graduates have been criticised for failing to make a meaningful contribution to professional practice in the construction industry in South Africa and across the world generally. Deficiencies have been reported in the ability of graduates of construction programmes to think critically, solve problems or apply theoretical knowledge in practical situations. Among other factors, the traditional didactic lecture approach to teaching and learning has been blamed for not providing students with an appropriate learning experience to adequately prepare them for professional practice. This is because the didactic lecture approach is characterised by attempts to transmit knowledge from the lecturer to the student which has been found to be inadequate in achieving effective learning. The traditional didactic approach to teaching is based on theories of learning which assumed that knowledge can be transmitted from the minds of lecturers to the minds of students. Contemporary theories of learning have rebuffed this assumption and demonstrated that knowledge and understanding are achieved by students actively engaging with the study material and constructing their own knowledge structures rather than passively receiving knowledge and understanding. Based on these contemporary theories of learning, several different pedagogy has been suggested and incorporated in educational practice. However, predominantly, contemporary pedagogy has been haphazardly applied within the traditional framework of segregated modules. Also, different pedagogy based on different contemporary theories has been researched and applied independent of each other. This has led to some contradictions in some pedagogy and a lack of synergistic collaboration among the contemporary pedagogy. Against this background, this thesis researched the problem that the traditional didactic lecture teaching approach to construction education at undergraduate level does not adequately prepare students for construction professional practice and therefore requires an alternative curriculum model which incorporates different contemporary theories of learning synergistically in a student centred inquiry based learning (IBL) pedagogical framework. To achieve this, the research established factors from the contemporary theories of learning which significantly contribute to the creation of knowledge structures in students studying construction programmes in South Africa. Subsequently the research proposed a curriculum model for construction programmes which incorporated the identified antecedents to effective learning underpinned in the contemporary pedagogical framework of IBL. The research followed a positivist epistemological philosophy and a subjective ontological philosophy, a deductive research approach, a survey research strategy, a cross sectional time horizon and a data collection technique and procedure of a questionnaire using the non-probability sampling technique of convenient sampling. The research procedure included an extensive literature review of three contemporary theories of learning namely, constructivism from philosophy, connectionism from behaviourism and cognitive load theory from cognitive science. Subsequently, an instrument measuring the concepts from the conceptual model was developed, pre-tested and then administered to undergraduate students studying construction programmes at a convenient sample of public universities in South Africa. The results show that the factors from the three contemporary theories of learning which directly influence the extent to which students studying construction programmes are able to create knowledge structures and achieve effective learning are individual learning, scaffolding, reflective thinking and group learning in that order. Repetition, reinforcement, readiness, self-directed learning and the use of worked examples have indirect relationships with the ability for students to create knowledge structures. Complex questions and authentic questions were also found to indirectly contribute to effective learning. Cognitive loading was found to interfere with learning and complex questions were found to induce cognitive loading while authentic questions did not. Subsequently, an IBL curriculum framework for construction programmes was proposed which integrated most of the topics which directly relate to construction practice. Based on the findings, the IBL class should involve students in both individual and group learning activities which should be appropriately scaffolded and students explicitly directed towards reflective thinking as they engage in the IBL projects. Complex questions and authentic questions should be used in collaboration with extra scaffolding in order to reduce the impact of the consequent cognitive loading induced by complex questions. The IBL projects should be simple initially and increase in complexity as the student’s advance.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.