Utilizing Quality Function Deployment Method To Better Integrate Soft Skills In Construction Curriculum

AbstractThe high level of soft skills among construction schools graduates has become an important target for construction academia. Based on the United States construction industry viewpoint, a previous study by the authors shows that the construction schools graduates have a gap in performing the needed level of soft skills while they are in their entry-level positions. The authors argue that the currently adopted solutions by academia to bridge the soft skills gap were defined as unstructured and unclear. In this paper, the authors propose the results of their study on how to integrate soft skills in construction curriculum. The Quality Function Deployment (QFD) Method was used as a theoretical framework for the study which resulted in developing four curriculum models. It is hoped that these results will help other educators in construction academia and will facilitate the way of allocating more weight for soft skills while designing construction curriculum.

Keywords- Construction Education, Construction Industry, Curriculum, Soft Skills, QFD

Jaser K. Mahasneh
Assistant Professor Department of architecture, Faculty of Architecture and Design,
Jordan University of Science and Technology
Irbid 22110, Jordan
Walid Y. Thabet,Professor
Department of Construction, College of Architecture and
Urban Studies,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA


I. Introduction

The researchers defined soft skills in the context construction education as “the needed ability and traits that are often used to describe the non-technical skills” [1]. The authors argued that “the existing content, definition, interpretations and approaches for soft skills used among construction educators and employers are not clear and the current solutions to bridge the soft skills gap are unstructured” [1]. the existence of evidence of soft skills gap among construction schools graduates. Therefore, they suggested that developing a structured framework to integrate soft skills in construction academia will sufficiently support students to cultivate soft skills competencies to match the industry’s needs. This paper summarized the proposed framework as a decision aid framework and the resulted soft skills curriculum after the implementation of the framework using the United States construction industry as a case study.

II. The Method

The study started with defining the researchers understanding for curriculum. Curriculum is “a formal academic plan that guides the students’ learning in pursuit of a college degree” [2] or “the courses offered by an educational institution or a set of courses constituting an area of specialization” [3]. The vast majority of researchers went beyond this definition. They variably used the term “curriculum” to describe guidelines that are aimed at improving learning. The curriculum research covers a very broad range of topics, methods, approaches, and theories. This could be in the form of instructional goals, content, instructional methods and resources, sequencing, evaluation, assessments, structure, and sometimes adjusting or complementing an existing curriculum [2, 4-6]. The later concept was used within this paper.

The researchers proposed criteria to conduct a normative analysis for the possible methodological approaches to tackle the soft skills gap. Based on that work, they proposed using QFD method to decrease the human intuition in designing the soft skills curriculum. While it is not empirically proven that QFD can improve the quality of higher education since it is a fresh quality strategies in higher education, there are an increasing number of researchers who propose using the QFD Methodology as an effective tool in design curriculum in higher-education. The scholars argue that using QFD in curriculum design will increase the industry satisfaction and/or increase the quality of learning outcomes [7-14].

The authors synthesize the previous literature and used the QFD method in seven steps as follow:

A. STEP 1:

The authors proposed a novel construction-related soft skills’ taxonomy [15]. A literature-based discovery method was applied for 32 scholarly documents. Soft skills were extracted, reduced, classified and organized into 12 clusters that constitute the taxonomy. The classification decisions were based on the hidden knowledge across the documents, the experiential knowledge of the authors, and are further triangulated utilizing a survey with feedback from industry and several interviews with academia.

B. STEP 2:

The authors identified a short list of 8 curriculum instructional domains, and 5 alternative strategies for each domain that may have a big impact on teaching soft skills. “Table 1” shows the list.

Table 1: The list of curriculum instructional domains

Table 1: The list of curriculum instructional domains

C. STEP 3:

The authors collected the initial information on the soft skills importance to the construction industry. The 12 clusters soft skills list was used in an industry survey that benchmark the soft skills gap among construction graduates. The results of this work in press.

D. STEP 4:

The authors collected the initial information on how to implement soft skills in construction curriculum. The 12 clusters soft skills list and curriculum instructional domains and its alternative strategies were used in structured interview to capture input from experts in academia regarding the relationships between each soft skills cluster and available curriculum instructional strategies. The relationship means “the effectiveness of using the instructional strategies to teach a specific soft skills cluster.”

The structured interview instrument was designed using a matrix format. The top row x-axis represents the curriculum domains and alternatives. The right column y-axis represents the soft skills clusters. The respondent was asked to rank the relationship between each soft skills cluster and curriculum domain alternatives in each square. With reference to the QFD concepts, the research proposed using the 12 soft skills clusters as industry needs which represent the “What” in the QFD. The Curriculum Domains and its alternatives represent the “How” in the QFD. The research used the education experts as respondents to the interview since they had the needed expertise to complete this matrix.

The population for this interview comprised of experts in soft skills education. The research used a non-probability convenient sample. Seven experts in soft skills education were contacted based on their expertise and willingness to participate in the interview. With acknowledgment to the QFD concepts, a scale consisting of Strong, Medium, Weak, and No relationship was used. During the data analysis, the rating was converted so that a 7 equaled a response of Strong, a 3 equaled a response of Medium, a 1 equaled a response of Weak, and a 0 equaled a response of no relationship. The research focused on getting a mix of experiences among the respondents. A list of 10 possible respondents was developed. The possible respondents were contacted using two recruitment strategies. The first one by asking them verbally (face to face) to participate and if they accepted, a face to face interview was conducted after signing a consent form. The interviewee was provided a summary of the research and the Matrix form. The interviewee then completed the form and returned it to the researcher. The second strategy was conducted by sending a recruitment email to the possible respondent. If he accepted, a consent form, the Matrix form, and a summary of the needed information were attached to a second email. Seven experts accepted to participate and complete the Matrix form. Data received from all seven respondents was transformed to electronic format and the
needed analysis was conducted.

E. STEP 5:

The relative weight for each soft skills strategy was calculated using the information captured in the previous four steps was combined together using a QFD matrix as shown in “Fig. 1”. The quadrant analysis was used to group the 12 soft skills clusters further into four sets. The rationale behind this is to offer a better allocation of resources and organizational attempts to eliminate or reduce the gap in each cluster. For each cluster, the mean value of importance and the mean value of satisfaction were calculated and plotted as (X, Y) points. The X axis represents the Relative Satisfaction and the Y axis represents the Relative Importance. The average value of the Relative Satisfaction scores (Xave.) was calculated. Similarly, the average value of the Relative Importance score (Yave.) was calculated. The two average values (Xave.,Yave.) were plotted.

Figure 1: An example to illustrate the source of data for each QFD matrix

Figure 1: An example to illustrate the source of data for each QFD matrix

F. STEP 6:

The highest relative weight strategies were picked to be the skeleton of the proposed curriculum. Then the researchers clarified their understanding to the results “please refer to the results and conclusion sections”.

G. STEP 7:

The research results were shared with four experts to capture their feedback regarding the validity and visibility of the overall research results.

III. Results

Four curriculum models were developed based on the information derived from the previous steps “Table 1”. The models have a hierarchical priority in their implementation. The first model has the highest priority; the second model has the second priority, and so on. Due to gaps recognized in all
12 soft skills clusters, all four models need to be implemented. Each Model defines the effective instructional strategies for the eight curriculum domains and is associated with a specific set of soft skills clusters. For each domain in the model, the highest relative weight among the five instructional strategies was determined as the effective strategy to be used.


Table 1: The four curriculum Models

Table 1: The four curriculum Models


IV. Conclusion

Based on the four soft skills instructional curriculum models proposed, a number of practical entailments emerged. First, the four models “somehow” shared the same effective instructional strategies. Second, the course method of delivery and the pedagogical approach were the top effective domains in soft skills curriculum. Third, some of the effective strategies need to be combined with other strategies for any particular domain. Also, there is concern that these effective strategies may not work as intended given that each educator has his own personal knowledge. The educators are blended by their personal knowledge and backgrounds. The understanding of any given curriculum is an experience issue. The research relies on the construction schools’ decision makers to determine the way to conceptualize how to put the proposed effective alternatives in practice. Each educator in those schools can use his or her own understanding of those models to teach in a way that likely increases the soft skills cultivation among his students.

The researchers also believes that presenting his own interpretation for the four curriculum models may help to get everybody in construction academia onto the same path and may offer more equitable distribution of resources. Also, it may clarify how we can effectively infuse these models into an already overcrowded curriculum. The interpretation is the researchers’ personal understanding to the design phase results. It focuses on proposing a stand-alone soft skills course for the first instructional model only.

The researchers understand the soft skills curriculum as something in which, personal knowledge (for educator and learner), content (the soft skills clusters), and the process (the instructional alternatives) are in dynamic interaction. This research focuses on providing construction academia with the effective strategies to implement soft skills in construction curriculum. We can’t expect individual educators to develop and infuse the four models into construction curriculum on their own. This should be organized by the university/ school’s leaders or the accreditation standards.

There is a lack of quantitative tools that can capture the industry’s need of soft skills and convert that quantitative data to a simple, reliable, and very effective curriculum that has indicators for measuring the future development. Throughout this paper, QFD Method has proven to be an effective tool in designing the soft skills curriculum. It offers a significant integration between the industry and the academia to equip the construction graduates with the needed soft skills knowledge and ultimately decreeing the gap among them. It is hoped that the results of this research can provide construction academia with a structured approach to help the students get better soft skills cultivation. Also, to reinforce the teaching activities of construction in the classrooms at all education levels. The work can be extended to be used in designing specific courses in construction education and/or other disciplines.

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