FLEX 4 – Design Principles and Practices

FLEX is a self-directed CPD scheme run by MMU’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). In my current role at the university I’m going to taking part in FLEX by reflecting on my professional development here on the blog. If you’re interested in finding out more about my teaching practice, read on!

Design Principles and Practices
Part 2
12 – 14 March 2015

As mentioned in my previous post after attending the Design Principles and Practices (DPP) conference I was thinking about two major themes: social justice in design teaching, and alternative learning spaces. Reflecting on how social issues could be introduced into design teaching lead me to content for an upcoming series of workshops, thinking about alternative spaces has pushed this outside the university.

The positive impact of off-campus teaching was supported at DPP by Hasty (2015) and Sadler Takach (2015). Hasty’s use of alternative learning spaces resulted in high student engagement and direct involvement with course content (for example, visiting a Target department store to gain first hand experience of visual merchandising). Off-campus working was supported by virtual learning strategies, including the use of Voice Thread for visually focused online conversations, and Twitter for communication with the local community. However, despite this online space, consistently working off-campus did negatively impact tutor contact time as all teaching time was spent ‘in the field’.

Sadler Takach takes a different approach, using a downtown retail space as a studio classroom to expose the design process to the community. Branded as Design Aid students worked to four themes; exposing, activating, owning and connecting, to explore design in society. While this brought logistical issues around building management and student travel arrangements students were afforded a level of freedom to explore their practice with the local community.

This use of alternative learning spaces is also currently being explored in the School of Art, particularly through the Unit X module (McCullagh et al. 2012). Projects within Unit X are taught across a wide range of spaces, from MOSI to pop-up studios in industrial buildings, to respond to the specific needs of live projects and promote a greater level of flexibility and adaptability in students. The specific value for art and design students in working outside the university is in the opportunity to work directly with clients in professional settings, increasing student confidence on moving into industry and forging relationships that can become placement and job opportunities. Students are also encouraged to ‘reflect on the external world and their role in the ever-changing landscape of design practice’ (McCullagh et al. 2012), emphasising the reflexive nature of design careers.

Student reaction to formal, and informal, learning off-campus has been mixed. In evaluative interviews conducted with recent Unit X graduates the sense of freedom and independence offered by external learning spaces was praised, as was the opportunity to gain ‘real world’ experience. However, resource-heavy subjects such as textiles in practice and 3D design found the lack of specialised resources in alternative spaces frustrating, and the additional time and cost incurred attending sessions also deterred students. These latter concerns have been addressed by reimbursing students for additional travel expenses, streamlining these procedures further could work to further allay concerns. For students concerned about lack of specialised resources the universal aspects of briefs (e.g. drawing, strategy) could be emphasised.

As I conclude my evaluation of Unit X I will be making recommendations of how the unit should continue in its fifth year, and will be advocating for continued use of external learning spaces. However, further work will need to be done in developing how these spaces are used, and the balance between traditional and alternative learning spaces that is most beneficial to the unit. In my action plan I have considered the next steps to take.

Words: 560

Things to do…

  • In formative and summative research conclusions, advocate for continued use of alternative learning spaces
  • Identify which alternative spaces have been most beneficial to student experience in Unit X, and how this can be replicated
  • Advise on strategies for adequately reimbursing students’ travel expenses in a timely manner, to cut hidden costs

Hasty, Dr A., (2015). Design Was Here: Teaching in a Variety of Learning Environments. At Design Principles and Practices. Chicago, IL, March.
Sadler Takach, Prof. B., (2015). Studying the DesignAid Learning Experience. At Design Principles and Practices. Chicago, IL, March.
McCullagh, J., McFadyen, J., Holmes, A., Crow, D., McKeating, J, (2012). Re-make, re-model: this is design education tomorrow calling. At DesignEd Asia—Incorporating Disciplinary Dynamics Into Design Education. Hong Kong, December.


5 thoughts on “FLEX 4 – Design Principles and Practices

  1. Hi Kate, sorry the previous comment didn’t reach you.

    This is an interesting post about learning spaces, spaces dedicated for learning and others that have not been designed for learning. It would be valuable to reflect on formal and informal learning, what is happening at the moment and what that means to learning spaces also, digital and non-digital.

    You mention the use of alternative spaces for Unit X. What was the rationale for this, what are the opportunities also? How does this work with students? How do they engage? Remember that the action plan needs to be specific and needs to show commitment to action. Have another look at the unit handbook please to make sure that you are addressing everything. Also read the assessment criteria.

    Well done so far,

    Looking forward to your final activity for FLEX.


  2. Hi Kate,

    I read the latest version with great interest. You mention students’ responses regarding different spaces and I am wondering if you have any ideas of how to overcome the difficulties some students seem to experience. Please add your ideas at the end of the relevant paragraph near the end.


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