Day in Court - Teaching Contract Disputes in Construction Management

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Civil and Mechanical Engineering

Publication Date


Publication Title

ASEE Annual Conference

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


XXX seeks to educate and inspire their civil engineering students through a rigorous and realistic academic program. One of the cornerstone courses in the program is a Construction Management Course that incorporates a variety of hands-on, real-world, learning challenges. The objective of the first third of the course is for the students to gain a foundational understanding of the basics of construction management to include project bidding, contract mechanisms, scheduling, estimating, and project controls. The topics are presented in a traditional classroom environment. The students are then challenged in the next third of the course to apply those construction management skills in a hands-on construction simulation exercise identified as the K’NEXercise.

The K’NEXercise is a competitive learning event where groups of students form construction companies which then bid on multiple projects. The projects are scaled structures constructed of rapid setting concrete for foundations and K’NEX components for the structure. The three projects are a bridge, a tower, and a hall. Upon completion of project bidding, student teams are awarded one of the three projects. Each team then proceeds to conduct construction planning and scheduling for their project, which lasts over several class periods. The student teams are then assembled on a single day to compete against each other. The winning criteria is to complete the project with the lowest construction costs, to include fines and penalties for “safety violations”. The prize for winning the completion in project category is exemption from writing a reflective essay on why their team lost. The stakes are high and the students take the competition very seriously. Inevitably there were heated disputes and challenges during and after the competition, which the faculty began to appreciate that this mimicked a real construction project and needed to be addressed.

Starting two years ago, the faculty instituted a Day in Court following the K’NEXercise. Each student team was required to file one to three grievances for their project. A faculty member, who was not an instructor in the course, would act as the judge in these proceedings. The instructor played the part of the owner; hence, they could not be the judge. The judge would hear both sides of the case and rule on the case. These results would then be applied to the K’NEXercise scoring and potentially change the outcome. The students always reported that the K’NEXercise was a fantastic learning environment and the Day in Court provided an even more realistic conclusion to the competition. The student’s experience in the Day in Court addressed several of the program’s ABET student outcomes. These outcomes include: Incorporating the knowledge of contemporary issues into the solution of engineering problems, Explaining the basic concepts of management and Speaking effectively. The assessment of these specific ABET student outcomes include direct and indirect embedded indicators. Additionally, the impact on both the cognitive and affective developmental domains is considered with respect to educating and inspiring our future civil engineers.

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