Making students active learners

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


ended up looking like this:


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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New Jersey Institute of Technology


Sample work presented by by Prof. Darius Sollohub on how online learning may penetrate the allied architectural courses. Sollohub considers studio instruction to be not just the key to architectural education but also a model of instruction for all courses as it is collaborative and based on problem solving. Allied courses have been traditionaly taught in larger halls with many students present, a condition he claims makes learning impossible. On the other hand, the high cost of a 15-17 student group as in a studio course cannot be financially sustained just for lecturing puproses.

What Prof. Sollohub proposes is a drastic change in the allied courses instruction to fill the needs of the millennial learners as he calls the generation born between 1982-2005. He considers these students to be:

  • collaborative, practical, results-oriented experiential learners (mostly studio)
  • digital natives and gamers natural multitaskers, (gamification still not a trend in architecture)
  • impatient, flexibility/convenience focused seek balanced lives (no loyalty left in this generation firm members say)

What he devised is a hybrid course of Structures with online lecturing and in-class group work and  quizzes. His online interface is still very primal -a mixture of a video of him speaking and a power point presentation running in parallel-. I have always been against quizzes and I would much rather prefer an in-class discussion instead of an exam-like treatment for acquiring knowledge. In any case, just like he claims in the beggining, architectural schools have failed so far to adapt to online learning, so any effort made toward that end is always welcome. The real challenge is however, the design studio itself, as it is a far more complex educational practice and therefore, a lot more resistant to change.

Image available here

Course Layout


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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Turning in-class lectures to online content


Determining the duration of the online videos of our course was a major step in its production. Before shooting the videos, we gathered all the lecturing content of each unit and collaborated with each lecturer to transform it into online material. Having read Guo’s article on video production we figured that content had to be condensed in 30 to 40 minute long lectures and further dismantled to max 7 minute self-contained videos. That is videos whose content could be seen independently and whose contribution to the meaning of the main core of the lecture content could be evaluated autonomously.  (For more please check my article in “The Creativity Game – Theory and Practice of Spatial Planning”: DOI 10.15292/IU-CG.2015.03.30-37)

In addition we used highlighted text to make terms and definitions stand out of the narration and we’ve also included images and diagrams of the narration of the specific entities of meaning we were presenting at the time. We also uploaded the transcript of each segment so that students who were engaging in the content for the first time could also follow the narration by reading it.

The effectiveness of lectures was also examined by Donald A. Bligh in his book “What is the Use of Lectures” (analyzed further by Tony Bates in his “Teaching in a Digital Age”), and he also supports the notion that lectures “should not be longer than 20 to 30 minutes – at least without techniques to vary stimulation”.

Our primary aim was to present those units as an expert’s insight on a subject matter. Each lecturer provided the students with a unique tool for urban mapping both in terms of content and representation. Therefore, the process involved more than the sole transmission of content; it was configured to describe a specific mode of thinking about the city.

Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning – See more at:
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