The Studio Model: Collaborative, Real-World Learning

I am currently in the process of re-designing a high school Innovative Technology (IT) course with a group of incredible teachers, and have been documenting highlights of my work here on TechPudding. My first post about the course re-design gave an overview of our move from basic how-tos of Microsoft Office applications, to a dynamic approach to helping students explore and examine technological change, ethical, social and psychological interactions with technology, and the application of an array of Web 2.0 tools (along with Office) in learning and productivity in the real world. We also decided to use the ISTE NETS (International Society for Technology in Education National Educational Technology Standards) for Students and Teachers to guide our re-design.

In today’s post, I will examine an incredible article that I just happened to stumble upon online (that’s the beauty of so much information at our fingertips!). I can’t wait to share it with my IT team members! The article is titled, The Studio Experience: Educational Reform in Instructional Technology by Lloyd P. Rieber. It describes a structure for education that truly mirrors the real-world workplace where designers work in teams to complete projects. With some adaptation, I believe that we can learn from it in designing our course.

The article outlines the ‘studio approach’, an approach used in graduate studies courses teaching multimedia design for educational purposes at the University of Georgia. The following are highlights  that made me think hard about how to structure not only our IT course, but our school in general.

The big idea that the studio model rests on is constructivism and in particular, three  ideas: (1) Learning is an active process in which individuals construct meaning. (2) Learning is a social and collaborative activity. (3) Learning happens through the construction of artifacts that are shared and critiqued by peers. Furthermore, to support constructivist learning, scaffolding helps us move from simple to complex concepts with different levels of structure and support (Rieber, para. 3). The idea of constructivism is not new to teachers, but it is a challenge for many to apply it in their teaching. I appreciate the emphasis on on-going critiques (a.k.a. reflections) of learning in all classes.

Rieber states, “Tools, such a computer authoring languages, are often taught according to the tool’s structure, not in how it is actually used in a design project. This is akin to learning English by studying a dictionary” (para. 4). I appreciate this comparison with learning from a dictionary because it points out our lack of context and application in the real world. He also acknowledges that when tools are taught through their structure, they are usually taught according to an “ideal sequence” (para. 4), without taking into account individual student differences in learning processes and task approach. This often leads to instructors having to re-teach material to students because they do not understand how to apply learning in different situations outside of the “ideal”.

Rieber also states that the “one-course/one-instructor model” isolates students and faculty in an artificial way, and teachers usually focus on a few tools that they are most comfortable with. Instead, students should collaborate and critique each other’s work in an on-going process of learning while faculty should share their expertise by sharing instructional duties and tasks (para. 4-5).

Students in the course learn concepts of design while developing technical skills in various software tools in a social setting (in both formal and informal collaborations). Students from all levels work and learn together. Mentorship teams are established and students and instructors use online learning management systems, email, and online resources to aid learning 24 hours a day (para. 6).

Student work in the course consists of projects, some of which have prescribed components, and others of which are determined by the students. Students share their work daily in design critiques with others, while documenting their own reflections related to their work and the theory and literature that they study simultaneously. A significant portion of student assessment is tied to personal reflections as well as evaluation criteria that students themselves create in conjunction with faculty (para. 7).

The final project in the course consists of real-world client services projects. They are posted on an online job board and students apply to the ones that they would like to work on. Team leaders then comb through the applications and decide which students to ‘hire’ for the jobs. Students can also be involved as “consultants” or “contractors” to other teams while working on their own projects (para. 9). 

There are several forms of assessment and evaluation of student work in the course:

  • Studio Showcase – a professional conference where all major projects are showcased to peers and the wider university and professional community, generating excitement and motivation
  • Comprehensive Exams – not written tests, but participation in online discussions as well as an oral exam about theory, literature, and practice involving faculty, professionals, and peers (para. 11-12)

In the re-conceptualization of their program, the multimedia design students and faculty at the University of Georgia learned some important lessons. One lesson was that change takes time, and both students and faculty members had to be patient and open-minded to a highly interactive and collaborative way of working and learning together (para. 16).

Also, it was vital that students became mentors and tutors to other students as well as faculty members so that instructors didn’t have to feel as if they had to know everything. They therefore required each student to contribute at least 10 hours to a volunteer position of their choice. Many chose to volunteer right in the design studio to help other students learn. Some also chose to lead online discussions, workshops, or seminars for other students based on their own expertise and passions (para. 18).

I would like to point out that this article was written in 2000, and the studio model is commonly used in post-secondary level art, design, and architecture schools. This shows that we are woefully far behind in making learning relevant, rigorous, and collaborative for our students.

The Studio Model in High School IT Class

The work of the multimedia design faculty at the University of Georgia is exceptional, and can be applied to high school classes. Here is how I might structure our IT class.

  • Teachers should teach collaboratively. We can begin by timetabling so that groups of teachers can share classes and teach to their strengths. We can start with our Multimedia, Design, and IT teachers. We can exchange classes for periods of time or teach them in combined groups, and focus on different aspects of the technologies, while engaging in professional learning together.
  • Students should be required to support other students in their learning in the areas of their strengths. They can choose between different types of support, from answering questions on an online discussion board, to providing just-in-time help in class, to planning a formal mini-workshop, to creating instructional videos or hand-outs.
  • Students should engage in regular personal reflections, peer critiques/discussions, and beta tests on peers. In a high school class, this process requires guidance because students have been taught for so long that what they do only matters to their teacher in order to receive a mark. I believe that we need some sort of reflection daily, and structured processes to help students and teachers become comfortable with it.
  • Client services projects can be conducted throughout the duration of a course. Students can select from a bank of projects submitted by the community, as well as school clubs, athletics, events, or celebrations. Students must stay in contact with their clients, manage their time based on timelines, submit drafts, and reflect on their progress for different jobs. Furthermore, students can apply for these jobs and the teacher and client can help to place them in the appropriate teams. The idea of also having contracted or consultant students is also a great way for peers to learn from each other while engaged in their own projects.
  • We need a few formal celebrations and showcases of student work to the wider school and professional community. If we can contact some professionals in the field and have them guide our learning and then critique the final products, that would be incredibly meaningful for students and staff.
  • The idea of an oral exam is intriguing. Not all students might be comfortable with this so perhaps we can structure them more and give students time to develop their answers. Then, with their regular practice of peer critiques, they can perhaps select one of a few ways to participate in an informal ‘defense’ of their learning and development through the course. This would be a wonderful culminating experience for students and their peers.

What do you think of the studio experience in your classroom? How might you adopt characteristics of the studio model?

Rieber, L. P. (2000). The studio experience: Educational reform in instructional technology. In D. G. Brown (Ed.), Teaching with technology: Seventy-five professors from eight universities tell their stories (pp. 195-196). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.
(Image: Brainstorm at INDEX: Views, by @boetter. 2005. Available under a Creative Commons License.)

Let’s Chat: Discussion-Stimulating Videos on Ed Tech & Change

My brain is getting tired since spring break is just over a week away and my city has experienced enough snow and -30-something degree (celsius) temperatures to last the entire year–in the last few weeks.

So I went in search of something both light and thought-provoking in the form of short videos of high interest, design, and accessibility, about educational change. Here is what I found:

21st Century Education in New Brunswick, Canada (5:35) by 21stCenturyNB

This video was produced by the New Brunswick Department of Education in 2010 to help stimulate discussion among educators about how technology has been a major force in shifting education, and how the education system must move forward in the personalization of learning. It includes facts and figures, as well as approaches to teaching and learning. The tone is positive and enthusiastic about the future, as well as the important role that educators play in helping students learn using technology tools and differentiated approaches. I especially enjoy the segment from about 3:00 minutes until the end, where it shows examples of ways in which we can increase personalization for students. These examples are very realistic and can already become a reality in our schools.

Did You Know 4.0 (4:46) by xplanevisualthinking

Practically everyone I know has seen the older Did You Know videos from a while back, like Did You Know 3.0 by vlbworks2010. What I admire about this newer version (uploaded in late 2009) is that it presents many facts and figures that I did not know. I am sure that most students have not seen it either. I believe that this video would be a wonderful resource to help stimulate discussion with students as well as adults of all kinds, around the ways in which technology has changed how we interact, think, and learn. I was impressed also with the calibre of the professors who helped contribute to it and the extensive reference list at the end of the video.

The Networked Student (5:10) by wdrexler

I wrote about this video in a past post, Rare Find: Positive and Practical Look at 21st C Education. This video, uploaded in 2008, is a surprisingly positive and useful look at modern education. I am tired of videos about educational change that do nothing but criticize everything about the education system, or highlight only issues without inspiration or solutions. In particular, this is a great video that highlights real ways in which students and teachers alike can build effective learning networks.

Do you have some recommendations for high quality videos that can be used to help educators and students to re-think thinking, school, schooling, and their futures? Please share!

Tech Changes Practice; Practice Changes Tech

Which came first? What changes what? I’m not referring to chickens or eggs, but what I mean is, does technology change teaching practice, or does teaching practice change technology? I believe that it works both ways, but that new innovations can be powerful catalysts for change if we examine our interactions with them closely.

In the past while, I have witnessed many student and teacher interactions with technologies and innovations that have shown that, although pedagogical practices using inquiry in real-world experiences is vital to meaningful learning, sometimes the tools themselves can be a central force in helping teachers and students re-examine what constitutes quality teaching and learning in our times. Furthermore, many people need something tangible like the technology, to understand how we should approach teaching and learning in the 21st century.

The following are a few of the many strong examples that have stuck in my mind. I not only use these as personal points of analysis and thought, but also as speaking points in discussing technology implementation with colleagues and students.

  • Students use their cell phones to take photos of notes written on a whiteboard. Like many people, typing (or hand writing when I don’t have my laptop) helps me to process and analyze ideas. However, while going to school, I never enjoyed trying to keep up with my teacher’s lectures while copying down notes at the same time. I was unable to recall anything that my teacher actually said because it took so much focus just to copy the notes. Therefore, we should allow students the time and focus to process our words, instead of diverting their attention to taking notes. Or better yet–we can devise more active ways for students to learn what it is that we would like them to. Taking a picture of a diagram or notes on the board can be helpful for students without the dexterity to copy text quickly, or who do not process, code, or de-code efficiently. We should then examine: 
    • What is the educational value of copying by hand or otherwise?
    • When is it effective learning to have students copy something down?
    • When is it effective for a teacher to lecture?
    • If we can research and share information in a variety of ways, then shouldn’t we?
    • Some teachers argue that giving students notes via handouts encourages a lack of attendance. My argument to counter this asks why teachers expect students to come to class to be lectured to and copy notes, instead of engaging in hands-on, experiential learning activities for the majority of class time. If you can lecture it, then students can also view a video or read the material at home. (See my post on the Flipped Classroom for more on the reduction of lectures from class time in exchange for interactive learning.)
  • Students bring their own devices (such as a laptop) to the classroom and, using wireless internet access, look up information and ideas before a teacher has even had the chance to explain them in a lecture. This is not to say that lectures are unimportant, but students already have the ability to research information that teachers normally lecture about. Even if there are only a few students who bring their own devices, they can work in teams using inquiry-based learning approaches to learn in more interactive and collaborative ways. And active learning helps students to engage, understand, and retain information far more effectively than listening to lectures. This also brings up the important point that we need to help students develop research skills in a sea of virtual resources so that they can select the most accurate and effective sources and cite them properly.
  • Students record reflections about their learning processes and progress using blogs, podcasts, e-portfolios, and vlogs. One of the vital ways in which students build metacognition, is by reflecting on their participation in the learning process, thinking about how they learn, and their progress in learning. Many people no longer hand write personal journals and in general, journals allow for limited mediums of expression. Now it is incredibly easy for students to create video journals, record their thoughts orally, and use multi-modal forms of expression to reflect and think about their learning. When used regularly, technology tools facilitate the development of metacognitive skills in students.
  • Students and teachers who have only one or two computers in the classroom use it to conduct inquiry-based research in rotating groups. My observations of high school and elementary school teachers has shown me that elementary teachers have the right ideas about how to conduct group work in different areas of study with limited resources. When you place two or three students at one computer and require them to engage in collaborative work, they are far more likely to learn more and deeply than they would be if they each had their own computer. The same is true for teachers who learn to apply technology tools in their classrooms. When they collaborate with other teachers around their teaching approaches, they progress quickly, build trust with one another, feel accountable to their team, and develop confidence in their own abilities.
  • Teachers with LCD projectors in their classrooms not only use them to show real-world examples in multiple formats (ie. videos, podcasts, images, text, etc.), but also require their students to share and teach other students. When teachers act as guides and fellow learners to the students in their classrooms, this type of collaborative learning can empower students to learn together and share their learning with each other. I believe that it is more important to accomplish learning as an empowered individual and a member of a collaborative team, than it is to receive learning from any one source in a passive manner.

So as to what comes first, it really does happen both ways. Using technology helps to change the way we teach and learn, and the way we teach and learn changes the types and ways in which we use technology. The cycle is endless and continues to improve what happens in our classrooms every day.

Do you have some striking examples of how students and teachers interact with and use technology to further their learning? How have these examples shown you the power of technology as a catalyst for moving teaching and learning forward?

(Image: Shell-v2, by PugnoM. 2009. Available under a Creative Commons License.)