Learning Through Teaching and Managing It All: A Revit Autodidact in Practice

As Socrates acknowledged, it is the brilliant philosopher, more than his pupil, who knows that he does not know. While the teacher organizes what he knows to prepare to teach it, he begins to recognize an ‘empty space’ in his representation of reality; those questions without answers, those unasked questions, answers that are wrong, imprecise or obsolete. This space is required in order to absorb new knowledge, for which there would otherwise be no room. Being conscious of ignorance is a precondition to learning, and we must point out that ignorance in itself is not sufficient, but there must be an awareness of this ignorance. Without awareness, the ‘empty space’ exists, but not the ‘demand’ (the receptiveness, the will, the desire) to fill it. The teacher learns as, being aware of his ignorance, he or she wills him or herself to learn and initiates an active knowledge search.
Cortese: Learning through Teaching, 105

As a concept, learning through teaching dates back to ancient Greek philosophy.  More contemporary exploration of this concept manifests in the late 18th century with the Scotsman Andrew Bell, who developed the “mutual teaching method” as a means to economize on hiring teachers.  The notion propagated through 19th century France as “ecoles mutuelles” with the number of students outpacing the supply of teachers.  In this incarnation, students were trained to teach and left to their own devices, unguided and unsupported.  As a means of primary education, it is no surprise that the retention rate (or simply put, success) was marginal at best. 

In a more modern milieu, the Frenchman Jean-Pol Martin spent the 1980s investigating the edifying benefits of allowing students to choose their didactic methodologies to instruct classmates.  Dubbed LdL, an abbreviation of the German Lernen durch Lehren, this approach eschews the presentation or lecture in front of the assembly in favor of cajoling the student-turned-teacher to create and deliver complete lessons with the expectation of results.  While often confused with tutoring, Martin stresses that the (actual) teacher is ever present, overseeing the proceedings to ensure control and offer support.  LdL tends to meet with increased results given that there is structure underlying the otherwise unorthodox notion that peers can learn by teaching each other.

A recent study led by John F. Nestojko at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri, first published in 2014 in the journal Memory & Cognition, empirically tested the notion of teacher versus student in a controlled environment.  The experiment essentially presented two groups with a reading passage, one group informed of an imminent test on the material, the other of the necessity to teach the material to others.  Both groups passed the same amount of time reviewing the material before the proctors deposed them on their absorption of the data.  It is important to note that neither group engaged in the act of teaching.  The results bely a complex psychological response to the stimulus.  The students who possessed the expectation of teaching were able to recall supplementary detail and give sufficiently more complete responses to pointed questions about the passage they reviewed.  Implied in this finding is the notion that the altered expectation changes the mindset of the students, thus also changing the approach and strategy employed in acquisition of the knowledge.  The instilling of expectation in and of itself was enough to spur the learning of the subjects.  The perception alone tapped into a toolbox possessed by all, allowing for a better use of mental resources.   In the summation, the author indicates:

When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively, and they had better memory for especially important information…When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure.  Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.
Nestojko, various

How does this notion inform the implementation of a paradigm shift in the AEC industry?  Quite simply, there are just not as many BIM experts in the workplace as there are for other drafting-based software platforms. While there is no question as to the benefits and efficacy of BIM in the design and production process, moving a complete practice over to this approach can be fraught with challenges, to say the least.  Market groups traditionally tailor their workflows to the demands of the client and the delivery system that is long-established. 

In the case I am highlighting, this manifested in the decision to execute a large portion of a foreign theme park project in Autodesk® Revit®.  While the company has long been a proponent of the software and its contribution to other market sectors, this represented the first large-scale deployment in a somewhat untested typology: amusement park work.  Compound that with the fact that the team as a whole was populated with nascent, fledgling, and even resistant Reviteurs.  I personally stepped in as responsible for three facilities: total scope is two “developments” composed of 12 facilities in sum.  I quickly found myself managing all 12 and learning/teaching became key.

As one might assume, the client, location, and project will remain confidential for the purposes of this narrative.  Let’s also add metric requirements to an “imperial-units” team, just to make it interesting.  With rudimentary onboarding tutelage, the project began in earnest. 

I discovered myself in the predicament of overseeing production of an exceptionally complex project in an unknown environment.  Faced with a steep learning curve, it also became apparent that the demands of the overall coordination and consistency efforts would require the power that Revit had to offer.  The client instituted a template which contained a “unique” project browser organization methodology. 

Figure 1: Project Browser

Seven parameters are necessary to put the views into the correct place in the browser.  If not properly parameterized, the views would not organize, but rather appear in the ??? category of the browser.  At the first milestone, circulating through the team members and explaining the browser repeatedly solidified its machinations in my mind.  Similarly, implementing Gross Floor Area schemes in 12 projects with a single schedule, which pulled in areas from all linked files, proved enlightening, especially noting the multitude of distinct breakouts needed for different client-side groups review and analysis.  After the repetition of inserting the three area schemes, three schedules (with three associated management schedules) and three color legends into 12 projects, teaching the usage and manipulation of these elements, as well as general area boundary insertion, proved most formative to my development as a manager of a large project in uncharted waters.

Another teaching opportunity presented itself in the necessity for consistent graphic content in various views in each individual drawing package.  I acquainted myself with view templates.  With only several consultants working in AutoCAD® and the rest in Revit, each facility contains a multitude of links, worksets, and components to be addressed with visibility graphics. 

Figure 2: View template

Again, the insertion of numerous view templates, adjusted manually into all of the facilities, coupled with the maintenance required when the team blows them up, and constant edification of team members in adjusting facets for specific needs, has solidified my grasp on the concept. 

With the project approaching the end of Design Development, real production commences in earnest.  Schedules, legends, details, wall (etc.) types are all populating the to-do list.  As usual, protocol and proper, consistent deployment are essential.  The continued need to teach the team and grow with them are paramount for delivery at every milestone.  A typical email at this juncture reads as follows:

Per {XXX} naming standards, stairs are to be named on their own numbering system.  The numbers shall be proximate to the door and counterclockwise around the building like room names. 

The name is as follows:
ST-001   [Level 0 Stair 01]
ST-101   [Level 1 Stair 01]

Elevators are to be named likewise:
EL-001   [Level 0 Elevator 01]
EL-101   [Level 1 Elevator 01]

If you have Actual Shafts, please refer to the {XXX} document {name redacted}, as they are a bit more complicated.

The door schedule in {###} is the most up to date.  Please use it as your model/template for all of the projects.  If extraneous columns are visible, please right click and hide them rather than deleting.  This format will allow the insertion of the information workshopped with Finish Hardware in the last couple of days. 

See Figures 4-8 for filtering and sorting that makes these work.  I have included each and every tab to be certain that we are consistent.

Please take 10 seconds to reply with a 10-4.  Appreciated.

Figure 3: Schedule

Figure 4: Schedule properties

Figure 5: Schedule properties

Figure 6: Schedule properties

Figure 7: Schedule properties

Figure 8: Schedule properties

While deploying management-level processes into a large machine such as this one, the knowledge that I would have to not only propagate these, but also direct others in their proper utilization truly forced an adjustment in mindset of absorbing the material.  I cannot afford to hunt and peck for buttons or key commands when I have team members awaiting my input or instruction.  At present, I have mastered a level of competency that allows me to interact with any of my team members, and while they drive, get them to the correct menu, tool or process as required.  In a short span of time, I have become as effective in managing in Revit as it took years to attain in AutoCAD in a previous lifetime.

The perception in the case of the above study, or the reality of imparting knowledge upon others, forces the didact to assess the handle he/she possesses on the material in question.  Called to the forefront are the simple questions: How do you know that? When would you use that? How could you come up with that in the first place? (Rusczyk).  Teaching forces acknowledgement that comprehension must be attained in order to properly communicate the ideas to the intended audience.  Effectively, it challenges the self-deceit implicit in our belief that we possess command of concepts that we are, ourselves, truly still learning.

Sources Cited:

Learning through Teaching, Claudio G. Cortese, Turin University, Turin, Italy, Management Learning, Vol 36, Issue 1, pp, 87-115, First published date: August-18-2016
Learning Through Teaching, Richard Rusczyk, throughteaching
Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages,
John F. Nestojko & Dung C. Bui & Nate Kornell & Elizabeth Ligon Bjork, Published online: 21 May 2014 # Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Andrew Fastman, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, has worked in various facets of the architectural world for nearly 20 years.  Educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Ecole d’Architecture Paris, La Vilette (formerly Beaux Arts) and University of California, Los Angeles, he maintains one foot staunchly in the academic realm.  Andy has worked for a variety of firms in the Los Angeles area ranging from Gehry Partners, to Jerde Partnership, to Ball-Nogues Studio.  He has recently returned to Cuningham Group Architecture’s Big Play Group, which focuses on big-name entertainment and theme park designs.  He also teaches at Otis College of Art and Design and is affiliated with the New York City College of Technology’s Advanced Design online studio critic project.  With only nine months of Revit experience under his belt, Andy continues to learn (while teaching) on a daily basis.  

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