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Course Reviewer’s Corner - Context: The ‘Other’ Credit Designation Determinant

By Michael F. Tamara, Assoc. AIA

Manager, Continuing Education Programs

No doubt all of you are more than familiar with the listed acceptable topics and criteria for credit designations, which provide a solid foundation for determining what type of credit a certain topic may merit. Although these guidelines may seem black-and-white, there is another piece of the review puzzle that is just as important: context. The “meat” of the course, so to speak – found in the description and learning objectives, of course – becomes the final determinant in whether a submission is actually approved for the desired designation.

Let us start by looking at the most basic category, LU. While rare, there have been cases in which course submissions have had to be denied because they’re ineligible for any type of AIA CES credit. The only thing that can cause this is that the topic is so broad that it doesn’t specifically apply to building and design.

For example, a course in basic word processing software may provide very valuable knowledge, but it applies to all office professions in general and none in particular. There is nothing specifically geared toward architecture, engineering, or construction in such a course, so it cannot qualify for LU credit. However, a course in spec writing software is different. Although also a word program, it is highly specialized and focused narrowly on writing construction specifications, so it would be eligible for at least LU credit, assuming the content of the learning objectives meets minimum expectations. So, while these two programs may look the same at a glance, they are different enough that one would qualify for AIA CES credit, and the other would not. Context is everything.

Once we get into HSW, the review process becomes more stringent, because we have an added set of requirements, and this is where context becomes particularly important. Let’s take, for example, religious architecture: specifically, a tour of the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, MD.

If the list of acceptable HSW topics were all we looked at, then a tour of a 200-year-old church would seem to automatically qualify for HSW credit, due to items like “historic” and “interiors” being subcategories on the list. But that isn’t looking far enough, because there is such diversity of possible directions the tour could take, and even with those subcategories apparently satisfied, not all would merit HSW credit.

For instance, if this tour of the basilica were simply a history lesson listing dates and factoids from the first 200 years of the building’s existence, or a brief biographical sketch of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, its original architect, then it would likely be deemed too vague to be HSW. Simply knowing when something was done or who did it does not provide new knowledge related to the physical or emotional benefit of the general public.

However, if the tour were to highlight Latrobe’s unique blending of centuries of Catholic sacred design with early American classicism; his deliberate use of natural light to create a bright, spiritually uplifting interior; the historical construction methods employed; or the comprehensive building restoration project that took place after the turn of the twenty-first century; then it would certainly qualify. Once again, context is everything.

The same logic is followed for SD. It is not enough to say, for instance, that a course gets sustainable design credit by the mere fact that it talks about a given set of sustainability guidelines or a rating framework. If the course is just a technical update in the way ratings are tabulated (i.e. the “math”), but does not get into the meaning and content of the actual principles themselves, it should be assumed that it may qualify for LU, but not SD.

Sometimes, it may seem as though we’re being overly picky or preoccupied with nuance, but what can seem like subtle differences on paper become quite obvious when a course is actually delivered. I would like to make this idea of context the focus of one of my 2012 webinars, where I’ll be able to explain it greater detail and offer more examples.

Finally, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and got to enjoy a well-deserved break. I’d like to take this opportunity to remind all Providers once again that the amount of time you should allow for course review will increase from the usual five (5) business days to ten (10) business days during the month of December. This is in order for us to be able to accommodate the higher volume we experience at the end of the year, so please plan accordingly. The timeframe will return to normal in January.

 

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