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Embedding learner independence in architecture education: reconsidering design studio pedagogy.

McClean, David


David McClean


David Lines

Richard Alexander Laing


The landscape of UK Higher Education has witnessed significant change in recent years, characterised by rapidly increasing numbers, widening participation, and a diminished per capita resource base. Developmental and enhancement agenda have placed greater emphasis on skills for lifelong learning, and the independent learner has thus become a prominent theme. In architecture education these factors are imposing pressures on the traditional studio-based teaching model, one that forms a universal cornerstone of architecture schools. Coincidentally, the same period has seen this model, endorsed by Schon in the 1980s, increasingly challenged. It is argued that the confluence of these factors, presents an opportunity to develop studio-based pedagogy around the notion of the independent learner, renewing studio's relevance and currency. The aim of this thesis was developed from a literature review that was divided into four sections. The first summarised developments within UK higher education, including research into the First Year Experience, and placed architecture education within this context. The second examined the origins of contemporary studio-based teaching, whilst the third discussed the theoretical roots of its pedagogy. The final chapter critiqued teaching and learning practices through comparison with the theoretical intent, revealing a number of contradictory and counter-productive aspects. From this, the position that the development of the truly independent learner in the discipline of architecture requires the formulation of new inclusive pedagogic strategies that explicitly accommodate the individual in the studio-based learning process, and address identified shortcomings in existing studio-based teaching practices, was developed. The methodology adopted an ethnographic approach that gathered data through a longitudinal study of student perceptions, together with interviews with selected academics. Analysis of the findings, whilst replicating many phenomena raised by the literature, also revealed in detail a range of perceptions of learning, and wider student life, giving insight into key challenges. In considering these against the agendum of creating the independent learner, the importance of the peer group as a vehicle for studio-based learning and pastoral support, emerged strongly. A number of recommendations were thus made aimed at reconstructing the role of the tutor in the development of future strategies, as well as harnessing the unrealised potential of the peer group as an agent in embedding independent learning in design studio. The originality of this thesis resides in the fact that it constitutes a holistic study of teaching and learning practices in first year design studio. This is viewed against the background of rapid change in UK Higher Education. Pivotal to the study was the undertaking of a longitudinal survey of student perceptions, presenting a vitally different perspective from, say, that of Schon. From a holistic standpoint, the study creates the theoretical and evidential basis for the future development of key pedagogic strategies relating to design studio. This lays the foundation for the development of learning practices that foster learner independence within the context of design studio.


MCCLEAN, D. 2009. Embedding learner independence in architecture education: reconsidering design studio pedagogy. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 30, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jul 30, 2015
Keywords Independent learning; Architecture education; Design studio; Pedagogy; Inclusion; First year
Public URL
Award Date May 31, 2009


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