Michael is the director of undergraduate programmes in the School of Architecture. He teaches design history and theory. He is also course coordinator and lecturer in SARC 151 Introduction to Design History and Theory
Kevin is the architecture programme director in the School of Architecture. Kevin teaches in SARC 162 Design Communication and is course coordinator
SARC162-Design Communication is a large first year course taken by students in architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture and building science. Around 350 students enrol in the course each year, and they are a very diverse cohort in terms of background and qualification goals. Prior to 2015 the course was organised around weekly mass lectures and follow up practical studio time. The academic staff conducted the lectures and tutors managed studio time. The tutors were mainly 4th and 5th year Masters’ students, and there were up to 16 tutors working in studio time. Lecturers had little input into studio time and did not usually attend.
A number of problems became apparent and prompted changes that are the focus of this case study. The first problem was that students did not attend the lectures. By the second or third week attendance dropped dramatically meaning that students were not getting the content they needed, were not engaging with the subject experts, and relied on the input of tutors and readings to complete assessments. The second problem was that the number of tutors and lack of training meant that there was significant variation in the advice that tutors provided to students, which resulted in inconsistent quality and outcomes in assignment work. The third problem was that lecturing staff had limited input into the studio time, and this meant limited impact on student learning. Finally, it was apparent that the more engaged students were not being challenged, while other students were unengaged, not connecting with important content and not performing as well as expected. The key issues they identified were firstly, a disconnect between lectures and studio time and secondly, a disconnect between the course learning outcomes, the assessments and the teaching and learning activities. As Michael put it: “projects are often set to be completed and marked, but the learning outcomes…they’re not always that closely thought about”.
Michael and Kevin completely redesigned SARC162 to align learning outcomes, assessments and content for the course. This included collaborative assessments (moving away from the ‘single student-single project-single answer’ approach), new marking rubrics to achieve greater consistency, and a new approach to content delivery.
A key innovation was to use a ‘flipped classroom’ approach and replace the face-to-face lectures with short, targeted online content that students could access via Blackboard. Online content was short, visual, had a single focus/topic, and included animations, models, video content, and variety – in their words, to “try to liven it up”.
They also redesigned studio time and put in place planned tasks to provide more structure and to support the assignments. Lecturers were scheduled to manage studio time, and tutors did facilitation. They used technology to share and teach in response to student questions and problems. Quizzes for the online content were used to improve accountability. Tutors were supported with greater communication via a meeting 30 minutes prior to the studio time to go over key tasks and content.
There has been improved student attendance and engagement in studio time, and the online video content has proved very effective. Michael and Kevin have noted that there is greater consistency in the quality of student performance on assessments. As well, there has been increased consistency in tutors’ work and marking. There has been increased collaboration between students and greater teaching satisfaction and enjoyment for staff.
Because lecturers and tutors are available in studio time, diverse student needs can be attended to, so differentiation in teaching and learning can be achieved.
Backward design and constructive alignment are the education design principles that underpin the approach used by Michael and Kevin to redesign SARC162. Backward design is the process of starting from the desired end point – the course outcomes (describing the knowledge and skills students will develop) - and working back to identify the content, and how best to teach and assess. Constructive alignment is an approach to learning design that ensures there is clear line of sight between learning outcomes, assessment tasks, content and learning activities. When these elements are clearly connected, students see the relevance of teaching and learning activities, and course assignments.
The course design changes made by Michael and Kevin have been very successful in addressing problems with student engagement. In addition to 'flipping' the teaching approach and using constructive alignment to create greater course coherence and relevance, they also developed better communication between staff, more engagement of senior staff with students, and effective use of technology to facilitate content learning for students.
This case study was written as part of the Innovative Pedagogies research project.