Design studio education in the online paradigm

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This is my paper from Athens EDUCON2017. It presents the reader with an understanding of the affinities between the traditional design studio education and connectivism. It also offers insight on the synergy of in-class and online sessions through the presentation of a hybrid urban design studio undergraduate course that ran in NTUA during 2016-2017 winter semester.

Full paper available here

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Making students active learners

Sneak peak in last year’s results. What started out to be like this:

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ended up looking like this:

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This year’s blog posts were increased compared to last year’s. The five students who attended the class uploaded some 85 blog posts -a relatively  higher  number compared to last year’s 138 posts uploaded by 17 students. What is even more interesting is the kind of posts last year’s students made: in their majority they related to embodied topography and the more experiential approaches to mapping and design. This proves how each year’s outcomes are conditioned by the learners and not the by original course content.

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Daphne Koller exits Coursera

and gives rise to a series of issues concerning MOOCs.

MOOC_web_final_wheel03

In his article Steven Krause quotes Rolin Moe and Jonathan Rees in an effort to investigate MOOC failure as a given fact, by claiming that even Koller -the face behind Coursera- dropped out to pursue a career in another field.

Some of their concerns are actually fair. Koller’s inspired TEDx speech back in 2011 with her excited trembling voice gave viewers the feeling that MOOCs would have been able to disseminate in the third world countries and finally offer an opportunity to the less fortunate to gain access to elite education. The only condition for this extremely humanitarian act had been a good internet connection. She was talking about the democratization of knowledge and that alone was reason enough to give MOOCs a chance.

Five years later Coursera numbers are still impressive, they do not however, relate to the company’s original claims. Research has long ago shown the qualitative characteristics of the people who attend MOOCs and it doesn’t fit the bill of the poor and the misfortunate. But despite the inconsistency between the original motion and the later developments MOOCs have utterly influenced the educational landscape more that the three gentlemen are willing to admit.

First of all, we have never before witnessed such openness in the educational resources or practices of Universities and people who are somehow specialized in a research field and are willing to share their insights with the rest of the world. Never before have I been able to feel connected to the rest of the academic community in terms of information exchange in a quasi formal academic framework within which the information was valid and opinions were argued for. Nor have people participating in this venture been freer to express opinion and argue about their beliefs in an ongoing dialogue with peers who share the same interest and may have different insights on the matter. And never again have so many courses been discussed, redesigned and rethought all over again, to the students’ gain.

So, have MOOCs been a Trojan horse that allowed educational institutions to capitalize on knowledge? Most probably; but from  the moment they emerged I remember everyone calling them a disruptive innovation (Clayton Christensen comes to mind) and a new means for creating wealth only this time this wealth would actually be shared among a bigger audience. MOOC providers haven’t cheated us. They acknowledged a weakness (university costs leading to high loans) and they offered a possible remedy.

I think that for the most part, MOOCs have been accused for not being able to live up to their promise and substitute on campus education. And maybe that was one of the most important original ambitions of the major providers, to gradually pass to a new educational model where on campus and online would be interrelating differently. Differently is the key word in my opinion in considering MOOCs. It’s just this grade of differentiation that one should look for. Both in the way they are run, and in how much they are willing to take up on. For there have been extremely successful MOOCs and others that have just tried to keep up with the trend without considering the change in medium. And maybe MOOCs -at least the exponential ones-, should never have contested traditional on campus practices with the aim to overthrow them. Perhaps they can exist in parallel, or even try again in another format and claim a presence that is complementary to traditional education. They could just be the incentive for a major change in curricula in the future. (Another insufferable criticism is that they have been changing as if traditional curricula stay the same)

And what about the learning community? Why don’t we take a minute to examine that. When I read about the MOOC hype recession, the assertion is usually followed by the same observation over and over again that students/learners haven’t been able to keep up with the change in their roles and assume responsibility for their learning. So, let’s face it: MOOCs or any other form of online education would never work unless the learners were willing to put themselves out of their ordinary course routines. And that takes time and energy, for there have been very few cases in the past where the academia promoted such practices and was willing to compromise its authority for a model of education where the learner shares responsibility for knowledge creation. None can expect learners to adapt in this new environment without resisting it. And that partly explains why independent initiatives like Leuphana’s or cMOOCs have proven to be more resistant; for they address a more unquiet public, a set of learners who do not expect knowledge packed and parceled but instead are taking responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it.

So, that said, I think it is still too early to make assumptions on the future of MOOCs. People may come and people may go. They fight for something and they have the right to fight for something else too without their contributions being undermined by their change of hearts. The MOOC ship has sailed some years ago and is still afloat navigated by its crew, the learners. They will decide upon its fate. Let’s not decide this time for them. Let’s give them time to prepare for such a decision.

Image available here

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Online Learning Analytics and the Quantified Self

FIGURE 06 LEARNING PATHS
Individual User Activity Plots for the Online Material. On the left the colour line shows the student’s overall attendance path. The chart on the right illustrates the students’ daily attendance. The straight line at the bottom, illustrates their weekly attendance.

Learning Analytics keep track of student engagement in online environments. They are invaluable in regard to the information they provide about attendance, student preferences and mostly their learning habits.

The first analytics I ever saw were those published by the University of Stanford in 2014 by Jennifer DeBoer, Andrew D. Ho, Glenda S. Stump, Lori Breslow and are available here. It wasn’t just the number of the students they monitored amazed me (I think it was more that 150.000 and that was itself an achievement) but their charts; those little crooked or flat lines that in all their simplicity actually depicted student activity. I can still remember how much I wanted to check this out for myself, set my own experiment and see how people learn, how different their approach is to learning.

And then, just a year later, our own analytics for “Methodological Tools of Analysis” 2015 course was issued with information about how our students performed and especially how they did it in completely different ways. What is more, the fact that our course ran both online and in-class gave us the opportunity to compare their performance and see how each environment worked in regard to the other for every one of the students.

We realized however, that despite the invaluable information we got out of these readings, they were more important to the students. That is why we printed the charts and we distributed them in class. Because it wasn’t at all about measuring the clicks -at that point we couldn’t do that anyway- as much as it was realizing that by having increased the stimuli and the ways the students could express themselves and engage in the course, we had offered them a learning environment that motivated them to be themselves. This process had allowed them to be free of educational preconceptions and shape their own learning styles.

So, those first charts and the ones that followed in 2016 have been our tacit manifestation of the emancipated learner. They may also be a manifestation of our quantified self as St. Downes claims in his recent presentation about new trends in online learning when he considers learning analytics to be one of the most important future trends. But he is right: it is not personalized learning in the sense that we adapt or customize the learning platform to suit them. It is personal because their learning paths are theirs alone.

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Course Layout

LAYOUT DIAGRAM

A diagram of our experimental course’s distribution of online and in-class activities reveals the complexity of exchange; as it is evident students and teachers are designed to meet on several occasions. They transmit their content independently yet they come together in online activities such as the lexicon and the course constitution as well as in all in-class activities. Most interestingly, what each group transmits separately is later adjoined with the rest of information in all common activities, therefore, blog posts and content are discussed and used in workshops and examples material is both read and illustrated in-class.

Excerpt from the paper entitled: “Transformachines: Transforming City Data to Architectural Design Methodologies”

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Individual and Social Learning

Antonello_da_Messina_-_St_Jerome_in_his_study_-_National_Gallery_London

Image: By Antonello da Messina – gallerix.ru, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=147583

In my 2014 paper for the DRHA 2014 Conference in Greenwich, I had argued on the importance of self directed learning and the personal responsibility of the individual toward his/her learning goals. I’ve always considered online learning as directly connected to a model of an emancipated learner in the likings of Joseph Jacoto’s students as presented in Jacques Ranciere’s “The Ignorant Schoolmaster”. Otherwise, how could someone get involved in a learning process unless he/she is determined to know more on a particular subject of interest?

On the other hand lays the social character of the educational milieu. In architecture schools group work is a prerequisite for most studios and students are required to work in groups of two or three in most design projects. This is a regular practice for arch students even for their final thesis projects. Working in groups and peer to peer exchange of views and insights is nowadays a constant prerequisite in online formats where participants are often encouraged to share their work with others but to also respond to user comments, critique the work of their peers and offer their advice. Sometimes, as in the Leuphana format, they are also requested to work in groups of fine or more even though miles apart.

In this context the learner assumes both the responsibility of his/her own progress but also an accountability for his/her overall social performance in this educational landscape -may that be in-class or online-. On one hand, the task is to search and discover -as a means of satisfying one’s own curiosity- and on the other, to share (and share respectfully) with others these individual threads of thought. Whatever the outcome of the process may be, course design needs to consider both of these aspects; treat the individual participator and also treat individuals as members of the learning society in which they claim their presence.

Read the full paper here

References

Rancière, J. (1991). The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Leuphana’s Digital School official site:
https://negotiations.digital.leuphana.com/course/pages/info (last access: 03/07/2014)
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Architectural Education Online and In-Class Synergies: Reshaping the Course and the Learner

CREATIVITY GAMECreativity Game, Theory and Practice of Spatial Planning | Number 3 | Year 2015 | ISSN 2350-3637

Architectural courses have been traditionally planned in the context of a physical classroom where the direct rapport of the students with the instructor is an unswerving condition for learning. This model was formed, however, at a time when learning was not impacted by technology. Although digital media have infiltrated architectural practice, they still elude architectural design education. The author argues that the integration of online educational practices in architectural curricula can benefit design education immensely by raising interaction and making students assume responsibility for their learning. To demonstrate the gains of online and in-class synergy in architectural education a blended course was set up at the postgraduate program of the National Technical University of Athens, School of Architecture. Current trends of online learning were carefully examined in regard to their compatibility with the architectural design culture of “learning by doing”. The course was eventually founded on the core principles of the connectivist model where learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse networks of connections (Downes, 2012). This approach was chosen because of its affinity to the design praxis where similarly students are required to make critical connections in order to map spatial phenomena and reconstruct the real. Course content was redesigned to comply with its new medium. Students were offered multiple channels of communication. They were also asked to contribute to the content material. Course data analysis demonstrated an unprecedented level of participation, exchange and student satisfaction as expressed in the surveys that followed the course’s completion.

Read Full Article here

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