Tag Archives: education

BD Blog Post – 21/09/2011

My latest contribution to BD’s Student Blog can be found here

Let me know what you think!

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BD Blog Post – No.2 – The Review – What Is Our Education For?

***The published version of this post can be found here.***

Hey! Look at me! Im a student! Its brilliant, you can do anything you want…..so why is it so hard?

Doing what you want – or perhaps knowing what you want to do – is actually quite a challenge, and a source of almost constant anxiety for all but the most driven of students. The harsh reality is that if I don’t explore this idea, or do that drawing, then it is me that loses out, and my (expensive) education that suffers. And so, looking back to that all too fleeting ‘year out’, it is difficult not to long for a source of true validation. I can’t help but feel that by necessarily raising our expectation of what we could become, architectural education also heightens the debilitating fear of failing to meet such an ambiguous goal.

It’s certainly an interesting time of year at architecture school. I am writing this as I prepare for an interim review of my entire year’s design work, with the final review in two weeks time. Needless to say, I am experiencing the heady anticipation of an imminent challenge , accompanied by manic bouts of self-doubt and the all to infrequent flurries of frantic productivity and divine clarity –  not, I would say, a feeling unfamiliar to architecture students past and present. Some silently implode, some violently explode, and some cruise quietly through, miraculously stealing moments of leisure amidst the scraps of trace and plotter printouts. Some prefer the solitude of home working, fading to grey in immediate concerns of those seeking the collective therapy of the studio . Known ‘stressers’ drift between those who, having made their peace with the enduring prospect of too little sleep, have  permanently installed at desks and drawing boards.

Zoe Berman recently wrote in this blog about the nature of the ‘crit’ and the diversity of opinion surrounding its role in architectural education. It is interesting to note that here at Sheffield, teaching staff are keen to refer to the experience as a ‘review’ rather than ‘crit’, playing down the anticipation of conflict in favour of a positive conversation about our general learning, seeking to develop both our skill as designers and our projects as architecture. As we approach the review, there is much debate about the balance to be struck between ‘designing’ and ‘drawing up’, with a forceful argument made by our tutors that the divide should by no means be stark and absolute. This illustrates a core principal underlying the school’s pedagogical approach, that the goal of education – of any kind – is to produce autonomous, life-long learners rather than merely ‘knowledgeable persons’. By derivation, I should reflect on how I am working, rather than what I am producing.

So what do our readers think our education is for? And how do they think we should be using it? Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to light the other end of my candle….

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Testing the Studio Teaching Innovation – Satwinder Samra

I managed to test my revised studio teaching innovation on former third-year head,, and current MArch studio tutor, Satwinder Samra, who has a particular interest in the use of simple drawing and diagrams to communicate, understand and explore ideas quickly. As soon as something is out of your head on paper, it exists, and can be analysed and discussed…it is the act that matters most, rather than purely the product.

I got Sat to produce a diagram illustrating his current ‘state’ – pressing deadlines, concerns, influences, motivations, obersvations; anything he felt was contributing to his current state of mind and affecting his daily actions. I then got him to talk me through the drawing, adding a second layer of reflection…

His drawing – and a video interview – can be found below….

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Studio Teaching Innovation – Revised Proposal

I have revised my proposal for the teaching innovation we are required to carry out in undergraduate studio situations…

This proposal is based upon the idea that self-appraisal is an integral part of learner autonomy, and that using drawing / diagramming is a good way to encourage reflective thought, lateral thinking and communication with tutors, as well as with other learners.

ARC571 Innovation – Self Appraisal Diagramming_Collage – Sam Brown

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Learning & Teaching Conference…

Today I attended the University of Sheffield’s 5th annual Learning & Teaching Conference…

The idea is to bring together staff (and suposedly students) to reflect on the curret and future directions of how the university teaches its students, and what is expected from all parties involved in learning at this particular institution. Although primarily attending in order to assist my tutor Rosie Parnell in delivering a paper on the ARC571 Module, it was interesting to gain a wider perspective on ‘learning at university’ and the views of its professional facilitators – in what is often considered ‘the other world’ of teaching.

I regard the University of Sheffield to be a forward-thinking institution – indeed, that is why I transferred here from my previous institution – and I believe this to have been reinforced by the conference attended today, although there are clearly still areas for improvement.

It was interesting to note the conference’s focus on matters that could loosely be termed as ’employability’ of its students; the plenary (introductory or key note…) session identified that often the things employers look for in graduates relate only indirectly to the actual technicalities of their subject of study (these were ’employers’ such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers, NPower and HSBC…), and what they actually value are the ‘other things’ that a critically engaged university experience brings; curiosity, competency, integrity, self-awareness. Techincal knowledge – says one speaker – can be taught relatively quickly, whilst these other qualities are usually harder to develop. The breadth of a university experience, then, is what employers value in a graduate, and therefore what graduates should value in a university experience, and the question of facilitating this seemed to be a recurring theme at today’s conference.

I attended specific sessions supporting this general aim, including;

Kroto Institute – an institute based at the University that was established with support from Harry Kroto, alumni and Nobel prize winner in order to promote a resource and enthusiasm for university learning in schools and colleges. A representative from teh Institute described their efforts at creating a TED-like database of ‘talks’ and presentations that are effective in an on-line context, produced by students and researchers at the University and available globally to colleges and schools (alongside presentations from other institutions)

Lecturing as Performace – which focussed on the idea that if students are paying for tuition, they expect to be entertained, and effective learining might be facilitated by embracing this aspect of the student attitude. Letting ‘persona’ and ‘context’ influience and support tehdelivery of context can be used to teh lecturer’s advantage in tehdelivery of learning.

Social Media and new technology in teaching – which focussed on asking how things like Skype, Blogs, Twitter, etc. might be used by reluctant and technologically illiterate academics in order to facilitate learning, especially in the context of distance-learning and decreasing contact time.

In summary, the conference had added an ’emergency’ session, in which a ‘workgroup’ presented a draft of the universities strategy for addressing the 2012 fee increase, the ensuing expectations of prospective students and what this might mean for the university-student relationship. This is where I think my view of this institution as a forward-thinking entity was reinforced, as the draft was being presented in order to start a discussion amongst those staff ‘on the ground’ about how they feel they should be teaching. I made my point about the lack of student involvement, which was courteously accepted, although no ‘action’ emerged…but what seemed to be apparent was a shift from research-led-teaching to research-led-learning. This conceptual transformation necessitates a commitment of responsibility from students, and the discussion touched upon how this might be facilitated. What needs to change in learning environments in order for student to be generally more committed, more autonomous, and value the ‘softer’ things – other than the degree classification – that they leave the university with. The assumption is that valuing this leads to a vibrant learning ‘community’, that perpetuates the institution’s reputation for excellence. Quite how you managed expecting this ‘commitment’ whilst increasing what you charge for the privilege three-fold, I don’t quite know…..

Our session itself seemed to go quite well – I was responsible, alongside a colleague for delivering a series of 5-minute discussions about ‘self-appraisal’ in architectural education and its application on other disciplines. The main idea seemed to be well-understood, and I feel like my presentation of it as a concept enabled a good understanding of our intentions and ocntxt amongst our particpants. However, in 5 minutes it is incredibly hard to have a valuable discussion. One point that was made in another of the workshops, which focussed on peer-assisted learning, was teh issue of appropriate mentoring – how do schemes like the Good Peer scheme ensure that the students acting as mentors (us) do so with integrity and competency? Teh answer, at teh moment, is that there is no guarantee other than that we have been through teh undergraduate programme and therefore should have some appreciation of appropriate behaviour. In discssion later with Rosie, we talked about the particular relevance of this to health issues such as depressiona and anxiety, which seem to be particularly prevalent amongst students of architecture.

In all a good day, with some good experience gained of the conference context. It was encouraging to see that there were at least 150 delegates who wanted to discuss the issues presented, and reflect upon their own practice as facilitators of learning. It was also encouraging to contribute to discussions and feel like my voice was recognised and accepted. These people really aren’t a million miles away for myself and my colleagues, and we have views, skills and interpretations that are valid and have value for others.

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Diagramming – My Architectural Education

Ive become interested in diagramming as a way to make complex information more explicit…this interest was sparked by Ted Cullinan‘s lecture style, witnessed at Studio In The Woods as he sketched loosely onto to acetate projected via OHP onto a barn wall as he spoke. More recently, Satwinder Samra at the Sheffield School of Architecture uses slightly more considered diagrams, which although pre-planned, are sketched ‘live’ as he talks to illustrate the content of his lectures.

Here, I have tried to make explicit the less tangible aspects of my path through architectural education, which will hopefully inform aspects of my studies for the ARC571 – Reflections on Architectural Education module with Rosie Parnell. It is intended as a first draft, and hopefully the diagram will evolve as I become able to consider it more, and as my perception widens. I hope to try this out with students in 1st, 2nd and 3rd years of the undergraduate course to compare experiences…

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Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture…Student Shelters

At the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin, students build their own shelters to stay in while studying…which lets face it, is pretty damn cool!

The School’s motto, Live Architecture, is practiced continually in the context of the residential learning environment where life and work are integrated;

Donald Schön (1983) suggested that the capacity to reflect in action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning was one of the defining characteristics of professional practice. He argued that the model of professional training which he termed “Technical Rationality”—of charging students up with knowledge in training schools so that they could discharge when they entered the world of practice, perhaps more aptly termed a “battery” model—has never been a particularly good description of how professionals “think in action”, and is quite inappropriate to practice in a fast-changing world.

The cultivation of the capacity to reflect in action (while doing something) and on action (after you have done it) has become an important feature of professional training programs in many disciplines, and its encouragement is seen as a particularly important aspect of the role of the mentor of the beginning professional. Indeed, it can be argued that “real” reflective practice needs another person as mentor or professional supervisor, who can ask appropriate questions to ensure that the reflection goes somewhere, and does not get bogged down in self-justification, self-indulgence, or self-pity.

The Taliesin pedagogy values the well-being of the individual student and encourages students to plan their time to include periods of reflection and rest, despite the ongoing urge to be “doing something.” Despite Frank Lloyd Wright’s well know motto “add tired to tired,” in recent years the School adapted to the needs of a fast-paced culture that may exert redundant pressure on individuals, particularly learners. The beauty of the natural environments at both campuses offers opportunities for retreat and reflection outdoors, in addition to the students’ personal spaces.


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