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Sophia Eco's design narrative: Make your own chair in the classroom

Design narrative for a classroom activity on design and model making

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Sophia Eco
1 April 2015


I was the tutor/ facilitator


This activity occurred during a Day School for the OU Design for Engineers module. It took place at a lecture room with large tables, providing plenty of space to move around them. The key actors were the students, working in small groups. As this took place during the first tutorial meeting, the students were not familiar with each other and with each other's style of work, beyond the usual ice-breakers. The other actor was the tutor.


I was trying to get the students to follow a design process, to reflect on the steps they followed and to observe how they can use  it in practice. Another benefit was that this was part of the work they had to do for their first TMA, and it is usually the part that nobody has the time to do alone at home.


The objective of the activity was to design and construct a chair prototype using newspapers, tape and scissors, which were provided and to reflect on how their approach fitted the design process that was described in the module materials. The allocated time for this was two hours, with breaks as needed.

The activity ran over the second half of the Day School. During the first part the students had become familiar with the principles of design. The activity was explained at the end of the first part. The students were asked to take their sketchbook with them during the break and to sketch objects that inspired them for their design.

After the break, the students were randomly divided in groups of two and asked to design and construct a chair model. This involved discussing the purpose of the chair, deciding on the features, sketching the chair, deciding how to construct it, then putting it together and preparing a small presentation for the class, in which to explain the design and justify their decisions, followed by some self-reflection and discussion on how this work fits in with the theory.

While the groups were working on the chair, I walked around and offered help. Not much help was needed, so instead I got to discuss design and other aspects of the module.

One unexpected positive effect was the enthusiasm with which the group carried out the project. One problem of the enthusiasm was that they did not immediately connect the work they were undertaking to the design principles, so I had to point them out to them in my rounds.

An expected problem was that some students were working much slower than others, so they did not have enough time to complete the work in the allocated time.

Another expected problem was that students were happy to show other teams their work, but were reluctant to present their process to the class. 

I believe all objectives were met.

An additional outcome was the development of team spirit which proved useful with other group work later on in the project- students wanted to be in a group with the people they had worked with.

I think that the main evidence that the activity worked was that in subsequent TMAs there were several people who were keen to carry out paper modelling work, possibly because they knew what it entailed.


Before the activity I was concerned that that two hours of unstructured classroom time would be disastrous.

 I was concerned that the students might think that I did very little teaching and that I asked them to do the activity in order to kill time, and that they would not learn anything from the session. I was quite surprised to receive positive feedback from students who said they enjoyed the activity. In hindsight, one of the things I could have improved would be the presentation part. In order to encourage the students to prepare a good presentation, I could ask them to structure it in a certain way. This might also help the reluctant ones to talk. 

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Tom Cheek
11:19am 2 April 2015

Hi Sophia,  It was great to read that you had the confidence to go with an outline session which allowed the session to evolve depending on student response and development, empowering them with their own learning, but still with some considered learning outcomes sitting behind.  I would have enjoyed being a learner for this session - collaboration; design and creativity.

sarah dain
8:06am 3 April 2015

Hi Sophia. I enjoyed your design narrative. I think it's great to take risks and chances...especially when it comes off in this way. What also stands out for me, is that we can't always be sure what the learning outcomes will be and that these can be very subjective depending on the participant. Thanks!

Anna Orridge
9:09am 3 April 2015

That sounds really good fun, Sophia,and I'm not surprised the students enjoyed it and found it productive. I've often shared your anxiety with these creative 'free-form actvities that students might start to wonder what I'm doing to earn my money! I think you can reduce that anxiety bymakingitvery clear at the outset that you are taking a backseat 'observatory' role in this particular session and you expect the students to take the initiative.

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