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EXPERIENCES WITH A COURSE ON COLLABORATIVE DESIGN
ON DISTANCE
Frans van Gassel, Jos van Leeuwen, Ad den Otter Eindhoven University of Technology, Department of Architecture, Building and Planning, Abstract: In conceptual design of architectural artefacts, designers from different disciplines work together. Multi-disciplinary collaboration is required when buildings and their construction have a complex nature. If this collaboration is not effective and efficient, it might lead to the construction of buildings that clients disapprove cost too much regarding the delivered quality and extend the throughput time as well as raise failure cost. Co l- laboration in design take place in physical space, as well as in distributed, or virtual environments. Virtual design teams use a range of ICT tools to support both synchronous and asynchronous communication. While these tools are designed to facilitate collaboration, the collaboration process still requires planning and organis ation, which is an activity that students and professionals need to learn. In current practice there is a need for designers and d e-sign managers with competences to collaborate in design and to organis e distributed collaboration processes. Keywords: Construction Management, Collaborative Design, ICT Tools, Experiential Learning. ception, design, engineering, procurement and con- struction” [1]. In his inauguration lecture Schaefer The Architecture, Engineering, and Construction pointed out the importance of knowledge manage- (AEC) industry needs designers who are competent to ment and collaborative engineering in describing the design as a design team on distance. To acquire this position of construction management [2]. Within the competence, a course on Collaborative Design is de- scope of automation and robotisation in construction veloped at Eindhoven University of Technology in the CIB Task Group TG27 “Human-Machine Tech- The Netherlands for students in the Master of Science nologies for Construction Sites” concluded that to get curriculum on Architecture, Building, and Planning. more performances in applying human-machine tech- The participating students have backgrounds that vary nologies there is a need for co-operating, partnering, from design management, architecture, building collaborative engineering and design build [3]. physics, construction management, structural engi- This involves that actors in the mentioned do- neering, to urban planning and building information mains need better competences in collaborative de- sign and especially in collaborative design on dis- In this paper, the lecturers of this course evaluate tance because today actors are often separated by the effectiveness of the course and reflect on how im- provements are necessary and possible. The paper starts with a discussion on the critical aspects of col-laborative design, the learning objectives of the course, and the approach followed. It then discusses our experiences and draws conclusions on improve- One of the first issues in teaching collaborative de- sign is to convey an understanding of what the term collaboration means. Kvan distinguishes between the terms collaboration and cooperation. In [4], he notes that cooperation relates to working together for mu- tual benefit, while collaboration relates to working together to achieve shared goals. The main distinction Today’s Construction Management needs comp e- between the two forms of working together, accord- tences for collaborative engineering and special for ing to Kvan, is the creative aspect of collaboration. collaborative design. Harris and McCaffer stated that Kvan also distinguishes closely coupled design “Construction management has developed over recent processes, in which participants continuously work years from a predominately site based activity into a closely to realise a design (see Figure 1), from loosely highly integrated process that includes project con- coupled design processes, where participants each contribute from their particular domain expertise at the authors’ department, the skills to organise such a moments when they have the knowledge required project are practiced in a multi-disciplinary design (see Figure 2). The latter model is observed more in project in the third year of the Bachelor’s programme. However, as noted before, Collaborative design is more than working together in the sense of coopera t-ing with individual tasks in such a project. Both or- ganis ational and technological issues are involved when a team needs to collaborate, particularly when collaboration takes place on distance. Questions that arise are: how do you organise a design meeting; what is the team members’ organisational role as op-posed to their professional role; which techniques can be used to enhance creativity in the group; how will we communicate on distance with respect to verbal Figure 1. Loosely coupled design process. and graphical communication; what about asynchro- nous communication? The Master of Science course ‘Collaborative Design’ developed by the authors, In the course presented in this paper, we stress aims to teach these skills and to provide students with that participants of collaborative design sessions in a insight and knowledge in the particular complexities multi-disciplinary team will make their own design of (distant) collaboration in multi-disciplinary design thinking transparent and are able to listen with inter- est and respect to each other. They are willing to learn from each other and realise that only in this way 4.1 MSc Course on Collaborative Design a good and integrated design result can be achieved. The organisation of the design process is crucial here, The objectives of this course at Eindhoven Un i- especially when designers need to work on distance. versity of Technology are to gain insight in the prob- They will make use of organisational instruments, lem domain of collaborative design and to get to such as meetings and scheduled tasks, as well as ICT know the possibilities of methods and techniques to tools for both synchronous and asynchronous com- approach this problem domain. Methods and tech- niques concern both organisational instruments and ICT related tools. Specific competences that are ac-quired through this course are the following. • To play an organisational role in a team-working project. This involves being able to identify so-cial and organisational roles people play in teams and becoming aware of one’s own role as as-sumed and as required. • To play a professional role in a multi-disciplinary Figure 2. Closely coupled desig n process. design process. Here the focus is on the activities and responsibilities of the students from the viewpoint of their respective expertise and spe-cialis ation. • To work together in a design team. The critical issues here are the creativity in the team and the students’ contribution to the creative process. An important aspect is for students to realise that In educational master programmes on architecture creativity in a team of designers and engineers and engineering, initially students often work alone must pass the boundaries of individual disci- on assignments, the results of which they discuss with plines; taking one another’s viewpoints is essen- their supervisor. When teamwork comes into play, • To be able to use, asses s, and select relevant ICT students have to organise their activities and make a tools for face-to-face as well as distant, and syn- project plan. They have to find answers to questions chronous as well as asynchronous communica- such as: what are the general objective and problem; tion to support progress in the design pro cesses. what is the approach followed; what is the planning; • To reflect on the work of the team and on the who does what; which results are expected when? At student’s individual contribution. The key to re- flection is the student’s awareness of the overall for the building object described in the brief from process as well as the individual activities and task 2. The virtual meetings take place through the roles and actions that the student has taken synchronous communication using a selection of The educational approach chosen in this course 4. Designing in a distributed organisation. For this task, a re-organisation of the teams takes place. can be indicated as ‘experiential learning.’ This The various multi-disciplinary teams are re- means that students acts as active learners while the organised into mono-disciplinary teams that rep- teacher’s coaching role is focused on observing stu- resent each of the construction-related disci- plines. While the students keep their original pro- According to the American Institute for Experien- fessional role, they are now teamed up with tial Learning [5], this educational concept is com- others that have the same role. Together these posed of three components: knowledge, activity and teams form an organisation of multiple profes- sional disciplines (see Figure 5). The organis a-tion’s task is to agree on the final design of the The activities in the course were organised into building object, based on the designs previously five assignments, of which two were individual as- made in task 3. The choice for a face-to-face or signments and three were group assigned design virtual meeting is open. The organisation as a whole has to deliver one final plan for the build- 1. Literature review. Each student prepares a sum- mary and short presentation of a review of two scientific papers on the topic of collaborative de-sign. 2. Designing in a team. In this task the student is member of a multi-disciplinary team. Within each of the six teams, students represent various construction-related professions, such as archi-tect, structural engineer, contractor, principal, HVAC consultant, etc. (see Figure 3). The team designs the function of a building object in one or two face-to-face meetings. The result is a de-sign brief. Figure 5. Task 4: Design in a distributed organis ation 5. Individual final report. Every student writes a re- port on his/her experiences with the course, de- Figure 3. Task 2: Design in a multi-d isciplinary team scribing what he/she has learned and providing an evaluation of the ICT -tools that were used. 3. Designing in a distributed team. The same multi- The three team assignments were imp ortant in the disciplinary team now works on distance and or- course, but mainly as a way for students to gain ganises virtual meetings to design a spatial layout e xperiences. For this purpose, the team sessions were not tutored. The way the teams addressed the orga- nisational problems was completely left open. Lec-turers would not actively involve themselves in the teams’ functioning, but could be consulted at any The individual final report formed the sole basis for the final assessments of the student’s work in the course. This made it possible for students to experi-ment in the teams, while at the same time removed the mutual dependencies of students to successfully Figure 4. Task 3: Design in a mult i-disciplinary team conclude the course. The team was allowed to fail: through online meetings and distributed work. individual students were assessed by their perception of the process and the personal actions manifested All participating students own a notebook com- puter with software that is relevant and required for their study. The university campus, including many The student workload of this course is 84 hours, cor- student residences, provides internet access, partially responding to three ECTS (European Credit Transfer System). The course is described on the website and While the observed process can be represented by includes all necessary information about objectives, the schema in Figure 6, which is a modified version tasks, literature, time planning, relevant web links, from [4], an additional activ ity was inserted in the requirements for deliverables, presentations, lecture schema to represent the synchronous communication notes, reflection criteria, etc. [6]. Students’ contribu- that takes place while team members work individu- tions and the results of activities in the three design tasks were submitted through a Project website. Apart from the assignments and the plenary dis- cussions of the progress of the teamwork, the course included interactive lectures on the following four 4.2.1 Organisational and social aspects of design- In these lectures, the objective was to make students aware of the many social aspects to collaboration, such as the need for mutual acceptation, openness, commit ment to shared goals, shared responsibilities, etc. Becoming aware of the roles people can play in a team was an important issue. Students were asked to identify their own role according to the test developed by Belbin [7,8]. In this test, team roles are distin- guished in three categories: action-oriented roles, people-oriented roles and cerebral roles. Students found it useful to become aware of their own natural role in a team. It allows them to recog-nise their own behaviour, to take advantage of their natural strengths, and to be conscious with their natu- Another kind of role is the professional role that students play in the team. As the students have differ- 4.2.3 Organising and managing the design pro cess ent backgrounds, the teams were multi-disciplinary Apart from the group-level aspects of collaborative teams. The multi-disciplinary design tasks allowed design, the course also addressed the issues of how to the students to play their professional role and experi- manage design processes and what kind of informa- ence how the nature of this role has an influence on tion environment organisations can deploy in design their behaviour and in the relation with the other team and construction projects. The potential of pro ject websites was discussed with particular interest in the business implementation issues. The way that an or- 4.2.2 The use of ICT tools for collaborative design ganisation is adjusted to new tools and the drive to Besides email and instant messaging tools that stu- stimulate co-workers to accept them are of crucial dents are already accustomed to, the ICT tools that importance for successful application of tools that are were mainly used in this course are Netmeeting (M i- allowed to play such a central role in a company’s crosoft), Architectural Studio (AutoDesk), and the Project website programme Automanager Meridan (Cyco Soft ware). 4.2.4 Collaborative design in practice • Their course is focused more on technical aspect Practical experiences on Collaborative design were of the distant collaboration and not so much on presented in the course by guest-lecture of the central • In the course by O’Brien, the personal reflection process owner of a national governmental organis a- is an informal document, whereas in the author’s tion with regional agencies on recently gained experi- course the student’s individual reflection is the ences of implementations and use of a distributed project website in the agency’s daily practice on con-struction project management. The course was taught in 2003 and in 2004. To be able to assess and improve the course it was neces- sary to evaluate both content and format. The type of questions that an evaluation of the course should pro-vide an answer to were: • Is the educational approach effective and do stu- Figure 7. Students collaborating on distance. dents actually acquire the targeted comp etences? • To what degree have students been able to de- velop themselves with respect to the domain of collaborative design? • Have they acquired sufficient skills using the A course that is similar to the one described here is • Are students capable of using the tools on their taught at the University of Florida and the University • Have the students been able to integrate the or- of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This course is ganis ational and technological skills in their called Collaborative Design Processes (CPD). O’Brien et al. describe the intention and organisation of the course and their experiences with it [9]. Answers to these questions have been obtained in two ways. First, the individual reports of the students 1. To understand the group dynamics and to de- contained information regarding their personal reflec- velop negotiation and decision making skills through direct experience of group design work tion and learning experiences. Second, a formal and through critical reflections, evaluation and evaluation was carried out in 2003 and 2004 by the analyses of multidisciplinary, net-based collabo- department’s educational support section. In the students’ reports, we extracted information 2. To complete a facility design including a plan, regarding the collaboration process during the three schedule, budget, and structure using different design assignments, analysis of these pro cesses in work processes enabled by the use of information terms of activities, roles, and tasks, and their experi- ences in participating in the design team using organ- 3. To learn how to evaluate and integrate technolo- gies of multi-disciplinary remote collaboration in isational instruments as well as ICT tools. The formal evaluation was carried out by a de- 4. To design improved work process methods and partmental evaluation officer in the form of a written to make recommendations for the development enquiry among all participating students. The results of improved software tools for collaborative, of this enquiry give insight in the perceived relevance of the course objectives, the quality of the course and the assignments, the time spent by students, the learn- The main differences with the course described in this paper are: • The course by O’Brien involves a higher level of detail of the required end-results from the design The main conclusions from the evaluation based on Their course is based on Bricsnet’s Project Ce n-ter rather than Automanager Meridian and Auto- the individual reports by the students are: • Most students were aware of having experienced different organisation of design processes as well as using different organisational instruments and are traditionally trained in cooperation and coordina- tion. Much effort is needed to convey the notion of • Working in a team of people previously un- collaboration in different settings specifically distant known to each other has a significant and pos i- collaboration. Experiential learning is a very good tive influence on the learning experience. way for students to learn the need for, e.g., organising Students were actively aware of the roles they played in the team; this concerned both the role effective collaboration processes. Providing students as a team member (e.g. according to Belbin) and with theory and examples, and also discussing such the professional role in a multi-disciplinary team. issues in groups, does not lead to the same effective- • It appeared difficult to be aware of, or even to play, both types of role at the same time. Future development for course improvement will • Playing the professional role is difficult because focus on redesigning tasks and probably adding of the unrealistic setting in an educational pro- smaller exercises as well as exercises focused on ef- fective use of ICT tools for distance collaboration. Organisation of the collaboration is crucial for Adding smaller exercises will focus on a more limited number of aspects of collaborative design. For exa m- Reflection is the most difficult part of the experi-ential learning format that was applied in this ple, separating the focus on organisational roles from course. A reason might be that students don’t that on professional roles is preferable in early exe r- have much experiences with this instrument. cises. They can be combined in later exercises or as- • Sufficient skills with ICT tools are necessary: signments. This is likely to increase the awareness of lack of skills will frustrate the collaboration the differences and the influences on students’ behav- • Physical distance is necessary to enforce distant While experiential learning was successful, the ef- collaboration (if they can easily walk and meet, fect can probably be increased by informing students about the approach and the expected effect. Conclusions derived of the formal evaluation: • Reflection is an effective instrument to finalise such a course. It helps to intensify the learning • Students appreciate the combination of social and [1] Harris, F. and R. McCaffer. 2001. Modern Con- technical aspects of the course: 50% of the stu- struction Management. Blackwell Science. dents appreciate the balance between technical [2] Schaefer, W.F., 2004. To image & to Control . In- a n d social/organisational issues in the course. auguration lecture, TU/e, The Netherlands. 25% find the course too social, 25% find it too [3] Gassel, Frans van, Ger Maas, 2001. International technical. Around 50% of the students find the Status Report on Aspects of Future Sites. CIB TG27 combination of these issues the most interesting aspect of the course. “Human-Machine Technologies for Constru ction • Students appreciate the completeness of the [4] Kvan T. 2000. Collaborative design: what is it? • Students rated this course by 3.5 (was 4.2 in Automation in Construction, 9(4) 400-415.
[5] American Institute for Experiential Learning. • The appreciation for the ICT tools varied: 26% too simple, 32% too complex and 42% effective. [6] Course material of the course ‘Collaborative De - • Teamwork on the assignments was largely untu- sign’. http://www.ds.arch.tue.nl/7m832 tored. 60% of the students agree with this ap- proach and have no need for intense guidance http://www.belbin.com/online-testing.html • Students found that the format of the course [8] Belbin RM. 1993. Team Roles at Work. Pfeiffer & Company. [9] O’Brien W, Soibelman L, Elvin G. 2003. Collabo-rative Design Processes: An Active- and Reflecting- Learning Course in Multidisciplinary Collaboration.
Journal of Construction Education . 8(2) 78-93.
A general conclusion after teaching this course for [10] Kvan, T. and E. Kvan. 1997. Is Design Really two consecutive years is that a satisfactory level of Social? Proceedings Creative Collaboration in Virtual collaboration is not easy to achieve with students that

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