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Learn to practice, practice to learn

During discussion about Design Pedagogies the relationship between theory, skills and practical...

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Georgina Holden
27 January 2010

During discussion about Design Pedagogies the relationship between theory, skills and practical work was identified as an important area in Design learning.

What pattern might articulate the design of learning in which theory informs practice and practise in turn informs theory and theoretical learning?


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The project process

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added by Jennefer Hart


Georgina Holden
4:21pm 27 January 2010

OK here is a tentative starting point:

Context: Individual or team learning in design education

Problem: How to help design students acquire both the theoretical and practical knowledge that they need in their future careers?

Forces: Students need to learn theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of design and also practical implementation and skills development. Some design students are biased towards practical learning and find theoretical work difficult to understand. For theoretical learning to take place an openess is required, but this is not always present. Some students focus all their energy into their practical work and do not ground it in theory.

Solution: Develop theoretical and practical understanding in parallel. Set project work with clear stages that requires the application of theoretical knowledge to practical situations. Ask students to reflect on the ways in which they have married these two elements of their learning

Summary: Develop learning of different kinds in parallel. Use projects and reflection as a way to bring these together.

nicole schadewitz
10:32am 28 January 2010 (Edited 11:03am 28 January 2010)

Interesting, I think a part of the problem is grounded in fact that students learn theory to do successful future practical projects (that ground in theory). The theory is explicit in the learning environment, but it becomes quite implicit in future projects.

Many alternative questions come into my mind, while none is perfect, one would be:

Problem: How to help design students acquire theoretical knowledge that they need in their future careers?

Solution: Integrate theoretical notions in project work in the learning environment. Make theoretical notions explicit in a developing project.

Consequence: In future projects students will have made the connection between theory and practice. They will use theory more implicitly.

Jennefer Hart
11:56am 28 January 2010 (Edited 12:43pm 28 January 2010)

This is an interesting problem and one which I can identify with as being both a design student and a design practitioner.  How designers / students improve their practice is quite complex.  Designers are affected by a variety of influences that surround them and one of these is design theory. Other factors include the current trends, their history or design background, their design skills; even their preferences and personality can have an impact.  

I agree...the use of theory within design practice can be both implicit and explicit.  Sometimes design students can unaware they are being influenced and some can make a concerted effort to practice according to a certain theory. Design students also need to be 'open' to theory at the right time.  The element of timing is quite important, which is something we discussed.  Being open to theory 'at the right time’ within their design practice.  Design students can be working on a project and not make a connection to a certain theory, yet later on within that project that theory it could be useful.  So, a ‘connection’ is needed at the ‘right time’ in order for a ‘change’ in practice to occur.   Is this another pattern?

nicole schadewitz
12:43pm 28 January 2010

Its great you bring back the discussion point of 'the right time to make connections'. In U101, the right time to make connection is in the TMA. More particularly in the compendium template that maps out the student's design process over 4 weeks. Each week is tied to a particular design phase, i.e. exploration, concept, proposal, and evaluation. And to a certain degree each phase also refers to a piece of theory. After each week, the students are asked to reflect on this particular week and phase of process. A great comment from an external evaluator was that in this reflection the link to the theory that has been introduced should be made more explicit. We all thought that was a very valuable comment. Interestingly, the connection between theory and practice is not made very explicit in the teaching elements, but in the project work!

Jennefer Hart
12:49pm 28 January 2010

BTW: I tried uploading the diagram in the embedded content area and it will not display.  I think Georgy you have also added something as well...probally the same diagram!!

Will Pollard
2:16pm 30 January 2010

What format was the diagram? JPEG seems to work ok.

Jennefer Hart
7:08pm 31 January 2010

Ahah...I have managed to upload the diagram using Flickr...

Derek Jones
7:56pm 8 May 2010

I would have to agree completely about the timing thing - it is absolutely essential that one is presented in relation to the other in such a way as to allow the connection between them to be made by the students themselves - when they do this themselves they 'own' this new knowledge and I can honestly say it is amazing to see this actually happening.

Here's a real example (which I am sure some of you will recognise ...).

One of the big concepts (I picked up on) in Block 1 of U101 is the notion of playfullness in design. I used this as Key Concept #1 and most of the first tutorial was dedicated to playing and telling 'adults' that it was ok to play again!

Looking around the room there was a genuine cross section of personalities and I could clearly see those who 'got' this concept and those who were yet to be convinced (and in particular one student who was actually frowning and had their arms folded very tightly across their chest).

We did several exercises that day and each time the message that 'it's ok to play' (theory) and that playing actually achieved something (practice) was reinforced again and again. By the end of it the folded arms person was one of the most active participants - they got it, saw the practical benefit of it, and actually used it.

Most interestingly, it was the students who attended the tutorial that responded best to the TMA and who reinforced the theory through practice. Again, these students now 'own' this theory through having practiced it and I have no doubt will use it again and even develop it.

Unfortunately I have yet to make such great progress in my professional design environment ...

Derek Jones
8:17pm 8 May 2010 (Edited 8:17pm 8 May 2010)

Oh, and dare I mention Martin Heidegger's Present-at-Hand (theory) and Ready-to-Hand (practice) (Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit - hope I got that right Nicole?).

Without going through the deep philosphy of it, I do think there is a real difference in one's mind before acting (theory) and after acting (practice)...

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