The following analyses are based on two different sets of semi-structured interviews with both students and staff involved in the design studio. Interviews were conducted with both individual students and with groups. The interviews aimed at collecting and comparing different experiences, perceptions, and uses of the wikis throughout the studio. The findings have later been mapped to the pedagogical approach explored in the design studio and have been evaluated according to the extent to which the use Wikis have contributed to the individual, collaborative and guided dimensions of learning.
The design studio consisted of 33 students and 2 instructors. Interviews were conducted with the participation of 15 students both individually and in groups. The average length was 32 minutes per interview. For online information gathering, every Wiki and its constituent sites were surveyed.
Students took part in the interviews on a voluntary basis. All signed ethical consent forms before each interview in compliance with the guidelines of the University of Liverpool and the British Educational Researchers Association (BERA, 2011).
Every interview comprised 3 stages: the explanation of the research project (aim and objectives), the explanation of the ethical consent form (which data we are collecting, for which purpose and how we are going to use it, anonymity and identity protection procedures, among others), and finally the interview which was recorded using a laptop and a voice recording application. Interviews were conducted by a research assistant (Alejandro Veliz) and not by the tutors of the design studio in order to avoid response bias. The interviews were organised in 3 sets of questions: the students’ background and motivations, their previous knowledge about technologies and social media, and thier overall experience with the use of Wikis throughout the studio course.
The sample is quite diverse involving students from different nationalities, ages and cultural backgrounds. Questions about their background were related to their previous education and approach to design. Out of 15 interviewees, one was British, two were Indian, one was Ethiopian and 11 were Chinese. In terms of professional experience, some had no experience and 2 had extensive prior experience in professional practice as “chief architects”. Most students had limited professional practice related to their degrees, between 3 and 9 months of work in an architectural firm as part of their Undergraduate degree before they enrolled in our masters programme. All had prior experience working in groups, as well as in the use of ICT technologies for design communication and representation.
An analysis of the interview records indicates that there are clear differences in the way tools were used and perceived, which was highly influnced by the students' professional experience and background. A very interesting example is the use web-based media to record design information. One student, graduated in 1995, with no formal training on digital design tools, was used to working with intranets to share files across different people in his practice. This past experience helped him use and organize the wiki pages much more effectively for recording and sharing design information. On the other hand, students with no collaborative working experience focused more on sharing files through social media (such as QQ - a chinese social networking site similar to Skype) instead of deciphering the semantics embedded in the files.
Regarding software use, most students had prior experience in developing 2D and 3D representations in AutoCAD and Sketchup. Thus, the communication across students was constrained to text and image sharing, regardless of the design tool being used. The following diagram summarises the use of both modelling/representational tools and communication tools reported by the students in the interviews.
We observed the use of Wikis according to the extent to which they facilitated/contributed to
- Representation of design information, and
- Social dynamics of the design studio.
Particularly, the production, curation and upload of contents seemed to be a demanding activity for students. Most groups reported a particular focus on these tasks during meetings. According to the interviewees, one of the main concerns during the curation and production of wiki contents was the relevance and legibility of the information conveyed to the studio tutors. Most groups reported that the content management was a group activity and was not left solely to the knowledge manager.
The Wikis provide evidence of high levels of interaction between different groups. By far, the pages with the highest number of comments and replies were those dedicated to software training and display of modelling sequences. Some groups created pages dedicated to the operability and construction of parametric models throughout their design process. Comments were then highly focused on the use of a specific software to accomplish a specific task in 3D modelling. Other comments – as were encouraged by the tutors – focused on the structure, organization and legibility of the Wikis. An important characteristic of the comments was that they were usually made individually. There were a few isolated cases where comments were made under the name of the group instead of an individual.
We also monitored and recorded a digital footprint of Wikis activity (e.g. upload of contents, viewing), by looking at the specific time and dates of use of the Wiki sites. This was important to understand the frequency and patterns of use. The following diagram indicates the day and time of every comment made in the Wiki sites throughout the semester. Every student comment is shown in blue, and instructor comments in red. The yellow highlight indicates the formal teaching time.
Due to the richness of representations used; the Wikis, in this particular project, can be regarded as a "learning portfolio" rather than a "reflective journal" (Roberts, 2014). Students made use of a rich variety of representational modes and resources in the Wikis, they also tried to find the best medium of representation to fit the intended message; including texts, 3D visualisations, sketches, diagrams, mind maps, animations among others..
In addition, some groups were able to embed videos using external sites such as YouTube or provide hyperlinks to external presentations (e.g. Prezi). Different media were carefully chosen to convey different/specific messages. Texts, for instance, were mainly used as a descriptive resource, reflective resource or to transcribe group communications and meetings. Images could also be considered as descriptive yet also comprise additional information through the display of 3D models, details, and also entail prescriptive information, e.g. regarding the use of a software. The versatility in which students make use of available media is aligned with the well-established studio tradition where different modes of representation are produced and curated for various purposes (Iordanova and Tidafi, 2007).
While the individual work in the design studio focused more on developing and practicing software skills; group work focused more on design and decision-making. This has been particularly the case where group members had prior professional experience. All students were provided with online software tutorials (for self-learning). The tutorials were made available on Blackboard (the online learning environment used by the University which also hosted the Wikis.
Since the roles of each individual student in each group were clearly differentiated, students taking over the role of “the architect - 3D modeller” had a heavier workload due to the additional (software) skills the role required. Our observations and analyses indicate that Wikis played a limited role in supporting individual learning. The majority of the contents were curated and uploaded during the group meetings. Nevertheless, wikis have widely been used as discussion platforms to share individual experiences on the use of 3D modelling and parametric design software and tutorials.
The high traffic of comments and information exchange across students on Wikis, related to developing and operating a parametric model, confirmed the exceptional emphasis that was put on this task. Only one group reported in the interviews that they paid to an external training provider to receive the same training in their own language (Chinese).
The “conversation pages” on the Wikis provide ample evidence of individual reflection on both the group work and on other groups’ work. In this respect, it proved to be quite useful to set up these conversation pages not only to encourage individual reflection, but also to engage students in a dynamic conversation throughout the semester. The conversation pages were also instrumental in keeping records of group meetings and for keeping track of both individual and group progress.
Online support for collaborative learning have posed challenges for educational researchers. While collaborative work is considered a fundamental skill in contemporary higher education and particularly in architectural design, its use blurs the boundaries between individual and collaborative work. This challenges individual assessments and contributions throughout the learning process (Trentin, 2009). Web-based tools can support this issue by facilitating the monitoring of collaborative work, and sets of variables have been developed for monitoring collaborative and individual work such as “levels of learning” (Trentin, 2009) or quantitative estimations of both individual and group activities (Simoff and Maher, 2009).
Collaborative work entailed the backbone of the design process in this studio as the brief itself required the organisation of students in groups of 3. Every group met (face-to-face) minimum twice a week at the University premises (School of Architecture Building, or the Library). These meetings were mainly organized to monitor and manage collaborative work (tasks) which mainly comprised of decision making and curation of the Wiki contents. In addition to these meetings, students kept communicating through social media and other online platforms. In this respect, the collaborative working hours of students extended well beyond the usual working hours. The engagement with social media resources (during individual work) for collaborative purposes has been reported as significant.
The internal dynamics of groups' meetings varied. While some of the groups designed collaboratively during their meetings; others indicated that design progress was the outcome of individual work, whereas the group meetings mainly contributed to discuss different design alternatives. During group meetings, students referred to and exchanged a variety of visual models (e.g. images, sketches, digital models, physical models) However, there was a clear difference between the models they used to communicate with each other and the ones they used to communicate with the instructors. While the former being more informal and in the form of sketches, the latter were more elaborated and carefully selected). In this respect, students carefully and collectively selected, and intelligently shaped different representational modalities according to context of use and context of communication. As a result, we can argue that the Wikis did indeed provide an effective medium to support the highly distributed and socio-technical aspects (Kocaturk et al, 2012) of collaborative design learning .
Our interview with the students comprised explicit questions regarding collaborative work. With the purpose of estimating students’ roles and group dynamics, questions related to their individual and group workload were repeated both in group and individual interviews. Students perceived that their work for studio purposes entailed, on average, 16.7 hrs per week ranging from 5 up to 50 hrs across the interviewees. An interesting variable is, however, how much of this work is dedicated to collaborative work. Students reported that a majority of the time dedicated to the studio work is spent on collaborative work, whereas an average of only 6.8 hrs a week is spent on individual work (which also includes software training time). In support of group interaction, social media was mostly used to chat (in real time) and to exchange files, both features not included in Wikis. One group attempted to use Wikis as a collaborative tool, however the lack of instant notifications makes it difficult to use Wikis as an effective media for real-time communication. Therefore, this attempt was not successful due to the inefficiency of existing Wiki platforms to be used for such purpose. Other reported shortages of the Wikis could be listed as lack of real-time chat and file sharing functions. Therefore, it is reported to mainly serve the asynchronous modes of design communication, yet synchronic communication was sustained through social and other online media.
Although it wasn’t intended as the primary purpose of enquiry of this work, we have also studied and compared the “perceived” workload of students due to the use of Wikis and other online media. The integration of distributed and informal learning methods into the studio contributes significantly to the “self-directed” hours of design learning. However, the perception of this additional workload varies significantly across students, especially in terms of the distribution of workload between individual and collaborative work, as indicated in the graph below:
The graph is built upon students’ perceptions of studio-related workload, expressed as hours per week. An interesting finding is the changing perceptions of individual and collaborative workload of the students within the same group. For instance, St1 and St2 worked in the same group, yet their workload perceptions vary more than 10 hrs per week and moreover, the collaborative work indicated by St1 is greater than the overall studio workload indicated by student St2. The most anomalous case is that of St4 and St5 who also worked within the same group. A possible explanation for this might be that St4 had the role of the “architect and 3D modeller” and spent a substantial amount of time, from early on since the beginning of the semester, on software training which he also counts towards group work. However, St5 worked as the “engineering and manufacturing consultant” and did not have a major contribution towards the groups’ work due to the stage of the design process (design development) at the time of this particular interview. Such high dispersion across the students’ workload is not aligned with the current credit-based educational system based on estimated “hours of work per week per module”. There is also the question of different learning styles which would entail different learning hours and which would have an impact on the perception of the actual and virtual distribution of workload across students for individual and collaborative work.
Students consider that the main benefit of the use of Wikis is to communicate with their instructors and as such, most Wiki contents had been produced, curated and managed for that purpose. As previously seen in the Figure 3, instructors interact with students through the Wikis outside formal teaching hours yet still within working hours. Such support, formed by comments and replies, mostly entails:
1. Technical comments related to the use and an operation of certain design tools,
2. Feedback and comments on design product, process and representations, and
3. Requests for content uploads and actualisation of Wikis.
Such modes of guidance also vary across different groups and are directly related to group-specific requirements. Blignaut and Tollip (2003) identified a taxonomy consisting of six teaching modes in online environments: administrative, affective, corrective, informative, socratic, and others.
Comments made in Wikis relate to all these categories except for “administrative” and “other” postings. Administrative comments were delivered mainly via Blackboard and not through the design project-oriented Wiki site.
The use of Wikis varied over time. This was controlled by instructors providing students with feedback at certain times of the semester and allowing them to control privacy options that let them control the accessibility to the Wikis at certain times of the semester (by fellow students). Such temporal dynamics was also shaped by the natural sequence of the design process itself, where, for example, software training was the main focus at the beginning of the semester, whereas fabrication and materialisation issues were solved later in the design process.
The use of Wikis proved to encourage and facilitate the students as more active learners, as they curate and select the navigational paths across their representations. Such task is usually related to instructors in the literature, in their guidance of the students. Thus we would also claim that the use of online support systems challenges the conventional studio culture, to some extent, particularly regarding the traditional assumptions regarding the role of the studio tutor as being the “guiding authority”. (Schon 1984).
A very important and determining factor which shapes the way students use Wikis is the design brief; how the nature of the design problem is identified, how the the design tasks (across groups and individuals)are distributed and whether the emphasis is on the product or the process of design (or both). In our experience, the design brief which was based on a highly interdisciplinary and collaborative work had resulted in a wide array of benefits and seemed to be a pertinent path toward the dynamic use of online support systems in the design studio.
Observations suggest that there is a link between the definition of the roles within the studio (designer, engineer, manager) and student performance. Groups that tended to work following a “everybody-does-everything” approach progressed slowly and faced more challenges towards the completion of the design tasks set by the brief. Conversely, groups with clearly defined roles proved to progress better and produced more design alternatives and better designs.
We have also observed that the current studio culture has merged students’ conceptualisations of “tools” and “softwares”. During the interviews, questions with regards to the utilization of design tools in the designs studio have immediately been reduced to the “ability” to operate certain software. Some students explained their educational background as either technical or arts-oriented by drawing a clear separation between the two. The choice of design models for design representations have been directly linked to “the ability to use a design software” (or not) instead of a designer’s choice of the relevant representational modality according to the message the designer aims to communicate whether the preferred modality will be produced by computers or not. These issues need to be addressed when embedding computers and digital media in design studio education which naturally challenges some of the underlying assumptions regarding the link between what we can represent, what we can design, and what we can build.
Allen, S., 2012. The future that is now, in: Ockman, J. and Williamson, R Cambridge (eds), Architecture school: three centuries of educating architects in North America: pp. 204-229.
Andia, A., 2002. Reconstructing the effects of computers on practice and education during the past three decades. Journal of Architectural Education (56)2: pp 7-13.
Blignaut, S. and Trollip, S., 2003. Developing a taxonomy of faculty participation in asynchronous learning environments - an exploratory investigation. Computers & Education (41): pp. 149-172.
British Educational Research Association, 2011. Ethical guidelines for educational research.
Domingo, M., Jewitt, C., and Kress, G., (In Press, 2014). Multimodal social semiotics: Writing in online contexts, in: K. Pahl and J. Rowsel (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Literary Studies. London: Routledge.
Gulwadi, G., 2009. Using reﬂective journals in a sustainable design studio. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 10(1): pp 43-53.
Iordanova, I. and Tidafi, T., 2007. Multimodal representation of referents for the architectural design studio: some cognitive aspects. International Journal of Design Sciences and Technology 14(2): pp 105–118.
Kocaturk, T., Balbo, R., Medjdoub, B. and Veliz, A., 2012. An innovative approach to technology mediated architectural design education: A framework for a web-based socio-cognitive eco-system, in: Achten, Henri; Pavlicek, Jiri; Hulin, Jaroslav; Matejdan, Dana (eds.), Proceedings of the 30th eCAADe Conference (1): pp 55-65.
Mizban, N. and Roberts, A., 2008. A review of experiences of the implementation of e-learning in architectural design education. CEBE Working Paper No. 13.
Roberts, A., 2009. Encouraging reflective practice in periods of professional workplace experience: the development of a conceptual model. Reflective practice 10(5).
Roberts, A. and Yoell, H., 2009. Reflectors, converts and the disengaged: A study of undergraduate architecture students’ perceptions of undertaking learning journals. Journal for Education in the Built Environment 4(2): pp 74-93.
Roberts, A., 2014. Peer and self-Assessment as a means to improve levels of reflection in students’ journal writing. Reflective Practice (In Press).
Schon, D., 1984. The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. Cambridge Press.
Simoff, S. and Maher, M.L., 2000. Analysing participation in collaborative design environments. Design Studies 21(2): pp 119-144.
Trentin, G., 2009. Using a wiki to evaluate individual contribution to a collaborative learning project. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (25): pp. 43-55.