Edutechie - the adventures of a learning technologist

Eli Appleby-Donald's views of educational technology

Tag: studio

Animation studio. Photo by Eli Appleby-Donald 2019

A place where learning happens, pedagogy and a construct: studio

When you work in learning and teaching, it’s bread and butter to discuss pedagogy over coffee at least once a week (maybe that should be scone and butter then), but when you work in learning and teaching in an art college, that conversation usually confuses the hell out of people. But really it shouldn’t. There isn’t anything super mysterious about the way teaching happens in most art subjects, you’ve just probably never heard it named this way.

So what is studio?

I suppose the first thing that comes to mind when people hear the term studio, especially in relation to art and design, is the physical place. Which is absolutely correct. The studio is the place where learning happens, where students work, socialize, support each other and where their tutor provides feedback to help them improve.

It dates way back, in fact historically, we can go back to the Middle Ages and the term Atelier.  This was the term used to describe the situation of the workshop or studio of a professional artist where the one master or principle artist worked together with a number of students or apprentices to create fine art.

“Ok Eli that’s simple enough, we all know this.”

Well yup, but the confusion happens when we start to talk about studio as pedagogy, as a method for teaching. That’s usually where the coffee conversation starts to dry up.

The physical studio may look different in different disciplines

But why a pedagogy?

A signature pedagogy is “the classroom moments reflecting the discipline’s way of thinking, knowing, doing and feeling” (Motley et al., 2016:224). For art & design teaching, studio is the signature pedagogy in use. They are epistemological and ontological but for art practitioners, they are also axiological.  Artists, as we heard about in the atelier model, haven’t just learned about a subject, they live the life of that subject matter. The philosophy of what it is to be an artist is embedded into teaching. Artists value collaborative and cooperative ways of working. They learn from each other. This is an integral part of teaching in art and design, the teaching of tacit and explicit knowledge through modelling practice. The tutor doesn’t just embody the practice in a physical sense, but the insider language and culture used and developed amongst practitioners.  If you like, we could use the simple terminology of preparing the student for actual life as an artist as opposed to teaching them about it.

Expression is never solely of one art alone. That is, when we practice an art, such as glassblowing, we express more than the practice of glassblowing itself: we express an entire history of learned corporeal knowledges. (O’Connor, 2007: 113).

I suppose this is a good point to mention that although we are talking in general terms about studio teaching, it’s good to remember that throughout the entirety of art and design, there are also discipline-specific practices.

Setting wicked problems

One great example of modelling practise is the setting of wicked problems. Design studio teaching forms around project briefs and problem setting, usually problems that are grounded in the realities of professional practice. The tutor sets a project brief which usually has an ill-defined problem that the students need to address, the answer the students seek may change as the student grapples with solving the problem.  The students work on these projects in the studio, both alone, but with their classmate working on their solutions around them, and collaboratively with their classmates as a peer learning and support network. Throughout their time working on the project, tutors will provide feedback and guidance. At various points throughout the year, the students will present their work to the tutors, professional practitioners and their classmates for “critique (crit) sessions” intended to stimulate reflection on and discovery of their learning through reviews and student questioning.

So just a quick hurl around the concept of studio, it is such an amazingly interesting and intricate concept that I could easily write all day but maybe for the purpose of a wee blog post, this is enough. Feel free to come grab a coffee with me and chat more though.


O’Connor E, (2007) The centripetal force of expression: Drawing embodied histories into glassblowing. Qualitative Sociology Review 3(3): 113–134.

Motley P, Chick NL and Hipchen E, (2016) A conversation about critique as a signature pedagogy in the Arts and Humanities. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 16(3): 223–228.

It’s just a jump to the left…..a quick introduction to my current research project

I’m taking a bit of a detour today to talk about some research I’m currently wrestling with. It seems to constantly be at the front of my thoughts and I see it rear its head at every opportunity so seems fitting that I share it here too.

The short blurb for this is I am currently researching “teaching presence” (that’s the very simplistic way to describe it, and when I started this project I really thought it was going to be that simple but I have taken so many twists and kinks along the way that at one point I wasn’t even sure I was going to get the answers I was looking for and if I should even carry on. I’m glad to say that perseverance won out and I’m back on track.

Let me explain.

Teaching presence, that concept of how a teacher makes their presence felt rather than just seen. Sounds simple enough? Or maybe you are thinking “really Eli, but the whole thing is that you can see the teacher in the classroom so why would you even discuss this in terms of teaching presence being felt?” And that’s ok, I think that is a completely legitimate question to ask. So lets break down my thoughts around this project a bit.

Teachers come in many different shapes and sizes, as the phrase goes, some teach in a classroom with 30 students or less, some teach in a lecture theatre with 500 student, some do lots of one on one time, for some there are too many students to offer that service so need to focus on one to many. Then you have the teachers who teach online, where technically, they aren’t there at all. So what are the factors that connect teaching presence with all these different teachers?

I wanted to look into this for practical purposes, I’m interested in online teaching (different form learning) and specifically I want to look into how teachers can take their experience and skills from one type of teaching (in a classroom or studio specifically) and then use this to create equal feelings of the teacher and presence in an online course.

There are two ways to look at this, you can view the perspective of the student, how does the student perceive the teacher, the teaching and their experience of both and this is probably the most common way that this has been investigated. However, I am really interested in the other way, to look at the teacher and what is their perception. I think this could make for some really interesting findings. For instance, how does a teacher perceive their identity as a teacher? What makes them say the label “teacher” fits? Again as an example, if very simplistically we talk about the teacher feeling like a teacher when they stand at the front of the class and teach their students. It could be the act of being infront of the class, or the interaction or response from their students. Maybe it’s seeing the student wrestle with a problem and then overcome it.

So now if we take that teacher out of their usual classroom and stand them in an empty room with only a video camera in front of them and ask them to teach… Can you see where I am going with this? If there are no students visibly present, what cues are there that your message is getting across?

In turn this idea of visual or felt presence as why opens up to investigation into how. Are there set things a teacher does that creates presence, if there is, do all teachers do them or do them all, do teachers do different things depending on environment, class size etc? And what happens when you change on of the factors that determine the how?

It’s all very interesting and could take so many paths. I’m starting with the basic concept of teaching… lets find out the why and how and I’ll update you all on my findings, I promise.

I’m taking a bit of a detour today to talk about some research I’m currently wrestling with. It is taking up most of my life at the moment so seems fitting that I share.

The short blurb for this is I am currently researching “teaching presence”, and when I started this project I really thought it was going to be that direct but I have taken so many twists and kinks along the way that at one point I wasn’t even sure I was going to get the answers I was looking for.

Let me explain.

Teaching presence, that concept of how a teacher makes their presence felt rather than just seen. Sounds simple enough? (You might have heard of this in connection with the Community of inquiry framework (COI)). Ok lets add in that the teacher is teaching online, so now how does this fare, the teacher is (technically) not “there” nor are the students because synchronicity is varied. So what is “thereness”? What actually is presence come to think of it? Should I have said that the teacher was “not” there?

I started out thinking the COI framework would be a great way to look at this, especially since it was written with online in mind, but when you work in an art college you very quickly realised things might not be that simple. So my research took a bit of a kink and became much more about how teachers create teaching presence in an online course, with the added twist of studio teaching. I’m very early days yet so I’m currently basking in the fun of having lots of questions I get to investigate and try to find answers to but I promise I’ll keep you up to date and share any good discoveries and conundrums along the way.

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