The Value of Online Construction Surveying

Construction Management faculty members are often asked, “How do you teach MSUM’s construction survey class online?” The answer frequently starts with a description of the typical construction management graduate’s responsibilities. Generally, a large percentage of MSUM graduates each year are employed by general contractors as project managers in the commercial building sector. However, MSUM also prepares graduates for other paths within the construction industry, including estimators, schedulers and safety engineers. Understanding the career paths graduates may follow helps determine the value of on-campus and online construction surveying alternatives for Construction Management program students.

Interviews with construction professionals and MSUM's construction management alumni shed light on the value of on-campus and online construction surveying courses.

Some of the primary tasks identified by interviewees included setting line and grade and laying out building corners for new construction. Specific skills that support these tasks include the ability for students to measure and collect horizontal and vertical distances and angles and document this data in field calculations. Students who master these skills can also perform other tasks, such as field measurements to verify material quantities and complete as-built drawings. As such, graduates should be able to utilize basic technologies that include a construction level and survey rod. Interviewees also emphasized that graduates should have a basic understanding of higher technologies used in construction surveying, including total stations, data collectors, global navigation satellite systems and drone technologies.

Overall, if a professional surveyor is on a project site, graduates should have a general understanding of the tasks the surveyor completes. A more recent career path for construction management graduates not presented above is opportunities for technology specialists within larger general contracting companies. With technology’s increasing influence in the construction industry, general contractors continually have to address both technology and associated client requirements for projects. Therefore, it is common for larger general contractors to develop internal staff who focus on managing technologies that can include surveying activities for data collection and post processing as well as construction stake out for their projects.

Additional responsibilities can include coordinating the utilization of CAD (computer aided design) shape files to compliment GPS use on construction equipment for machine control during project construction phases. These ongoing technological advancements in the industry allow MSUM students interested in survey technology an opportunity to follow a survey/technology career path within an organization working as . construction technology specialists.

What does an online construction surveying course look like? As one would expect, using survey equipment hands-on in an on-campus course versus using learning material developed for the online course is a different experience. The learning material developed for the online survey labs provides students with a visual representation of survey procedures depicted in a construction setting, whereby students must analyze the information represented to interpret, document measurements and complete calculations in a survey field book. An example is a picture of a graduated survey rod imposed on a view of a construction site. Also shown in this representation is the survey instrument’s reticle (cross-hair) imposed on the survey rod. By analyzing this particular graphic, students must interpret the vertical distance measured and document it in the proper format in a survey field book.

Graduated Survey Rod

Another example of visual representations used in the online survey course is a lab that includes a series of graphics depicting data on the faceplate of a total station. Depending upon the survey procedure, students must interpret the data and accurately demonstrate how to document the information in the proper format in a survey field book.

Finally, online survey course content teaches students to set up a survey instrument for accurate field measurements. Depending on the survey instrument used for data collection, this process can involve setting the instrument on a tripod and using a combination of leveling screws, spirit bubbles, plate levels and an electronic compensator to level the instrument before taking field measurements. During the course, on-campus students learn to follow specific hands-on steps for setting up and leveling both construction levels and total stations for field measurement. For online students, this is addressed through a required repetitive narrative process whereby students develop a detailed narrative describing specific procedures that must be followed to set up the instrument for measuring. For each subsequent survey lab, students must develop a new and unique narrative describing the procedure in their own words.

Based on interview feedback, company managers who hire MSUM students generally want to see graduates who follow a project management or survey technology path to have hands-on experience and complete construction surveying classes and labs on-campus. However, most students take construction surveying before their junior year and may still need to determine a path they want to follow upon graduation. For students who decide to pursue an estimating, scheduling or safety career path, the online survey course may be a suitable experience for employers trying to fill these positions. Another exception is specific to both traditional and non-traditional students who are completing the online program and are currently employed in the industry. In most of these situations, the employer supports the student completing the Construction Management degree and understands they are doing online course work while working full time.

Overall, there is value in both on-campus and online methods for teaching construction surveying, and the method chosen by students should be driven by their identified career path within the construction industry or by their current employer, whenever possible.

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