A fresh way of learning

22 February 2014


Swedish Wood and its UK partners have devised a series of online CPD courses for architects. Wood Campus’s Tony Traynor reports.

One of the UK timber industry's biggest opportunities is to give architects more of a sense of how to use wood than they are taught in architecture schools.

Architects often qualify confident in their knowledge of how to work with steel and concrete, brick and block, but have an appetite for a greater knowledge of how to build with timber in order to realise their ambition to create more sustainable buildings.

Over a number of years, Swedish Wood has taken advantage of that opportunity, investing in providing inspiration and information for specifiers through its support for Wood for Good and the online learning portal Wood Campus.

In practice, CPD seminars are delivered through Wood for Good in conjunction with TRADA and Edinburgh Napier University, while Wood Campus acts as the industry's online information resource, complementing TRADA's more technical approach.

Now, in just three months, Swedish Wood, working with the UK timber industry, has launched three major online learning initiatives - each fully RIBA-accredited - that have taken a completely fresh approach to architects' continuing professional development (CPD).

The first is an introduction to timber in construction, "Timber - the Building Material of the Future", which is available as three linked CPD programmes on ribacpd.com or as one fully navigable programme on woodcampus.co.uk. The second, developed together with the Structural Timber Association (STA) and with the support of Wood for Good, is the fully interactive "Architects' Challenge", available on woodcampus.co.uk. And the third is an iPad version of "Timber - the Building Material of the Future", called "Future Timber", available as a download from iTunes or via woodcampus.co.uk. All three are free.

Demand for more information
Swedish Wood's research showed there was a real demand among architects for more information about timber, starting right from the basics. So it decided to work with the architects' professional body, RIBA, to create the information in the way that best suited architects, delivered in the way they trusted most: RIBA-accredited online learning CPD hosted at ribacpd.com.

There are a lot of online CPD courses competing for architects' attention; it's a popular area for manufacturers, as architects are responsible for specifying much of the construction industry's output, and their mandatory requirement to complete annual CPD hours makes them something of a captive audience. At the same time, a quick look at most courses on ribacpd.com inspired the thought that perhaps, in these days of fast-moving information technology and visualisation formats, there was a better way of delivering the information to these highly visually aware professionals than by using an animated PowerPoint presentation.

So Swedish Wood discussed with RIBA how it could deliver a general introduction to timber in construction in a completely new way through the CPD Providers Network. RIBA welcomed the initiative and was happy to allow Swedish Wood control of the production side of the project. The concept involved using as much film as possible, with expert presenters and in situ demonstrations. And, although initial discussions on a fully navigable programme ran into technical problems, the solution was to create a linear version, split into three separate CPD modules, each with its own question-and-answer section and each eligible for CPD points.

The result was "Timber - the Building Material of the Future", which is structured to correspond with the first three RIBA work stages, so that architects can learn about wood in a way that suits their method of working. It is largely film-based, featuring Waugh Thistleton's Andrew Waugh, the architect of the world's tallest all-timber residential building, and others from the timber industry.

In Stage 0, Mr Waugh explains what motivated him to build in timber, why timber is so important to sustainable development, how the UK leads the world in innovative timber buildings and how timber solutions can help architects meet different aspects of their clients' strategic brief. He also shows a gallery of some of the more interesting recent timber projects in the UK.

Stage 1 looks at the ways timber systems can help meet an architect's quality objectives, shows how much help timber can provide in meeting sustainability goals, takes the architect through the timber options available, and gives advice from different perspectives about how to achieve best value from a timber frame project.

Stage 2 shows how an architect can meet sustainable procurement criteria and goes into greater depth about specifying timber frame, giving advice on construction strategy, how to get the most out of off-site manufacturing and the importance of SiteSafe practices to reducing the risk of fire on construction sites.

"Timber - the Building Material of the Future" is fully RIBA-accredited and available on ribacpd.com, while the interactive version, complete with downloadable case studies and specification sheets, is available at woodcampus.co.uk.

Another completely new concept in CPD learning is the "Architects' Challenge", in this case developed over an extended period in collaboration with the STA, with support from Wood for Good and technical development by Cortexa.

Step-by-step approach
Working on the principle that the best way to learn is on the job, the idea behind this programme is to take architects step-by-step through each RIBA work stage in the planning and design of a real health centre. This fully interactive programme involves a continuous process of research and decision-making, with evaluation at each stage leading to a final score that can be compared with colleagues. Also fully RIBA-accredited, the "Architects' Challenge" is available at woodcampus.co.uk.

Swedish Wood already has experience of apps through the Wood Campus smartphone apps. However, with the rapidly expanding universe of iPad users it was only a matter of time until it produced an iPad app - with the launch this January of the iPad "Future Timber", available from iTunes or via woodcampus.co.uk. The app combines a magazine-style format with embedded videos, quizzes and downloadable case studies and specification sheets. Its visual appeal and functionality create a new benchmark for online CPD. It looks set to be the first of many.

The Wood Campus website flags up its focus on timber in construction
Future Timber was launched as an iPad app in January