Using Learning Technologies to disrupt and change Design Education

I love technology. I know. This does not come as a surprise to many of you who know me. Or who have even read one or two of my blog posts! I would style myself an early adopter of any new applications that make their way onto the market. I download. Create an account. Explore. I check the cost! I check for intuitiveness. How easy it would be to use in the classroom. What age it is appropriate for. Lots of questions and criteria go through my head. But probably the key criteria is deciding what subject matter this software/application is best suited for. As I am often looking for unique solutions to difficult subject matters. For online or blended learning solutions. Let me explain.

don't touch blended learning in studio

Don’t bother

One of the roles I take on as Change Agent, that I have truly enjoyed doing, is implementing technology and online learning in the education sector. And I love the challenge I am almost always confronted with as I enter a new work environment, “Don’t bother, [insert subject name] is not something that can be done online”. This was certainly true for Studio in Design Education at a local University. I immediately took the challenge!

Blended learning in Studio

The Studio plays an important role in design education; it is where students develop their creative practices and processes, where students complete self-paced project work in a face-to-face, peer-to-peer exchange of ideas. In response to the challenge, I spent time observing how students learn in Studios, talked to academics and students, and engaged in reading about design education and design theory (Lawson, 2006). To gain an understanding of how this statement might be challenged (Zehner et al., 2009), but also how we might use blended learning Studio’s as a first step.

Together, design academics and I explored how learning technologies might be introduced into the Studios to support student learning of design thinking. One idea was using online feedback, utilising a digital portfolio for collecting work, and giving immediate feedback using mobile technologies. So, we introduced into a first-year Studio Unit, e-portfolios and online rubrics, using mobile technology to give immediate written feedback and assessment results to students. We set-up the e-portfolios assessments, wrote the student instructions for using the technology on the Unit Moodle site, and developed an online rubric in Moodle that would assess the intended learning (Biggs & Tang, 2011).  We then reviewed of the new practices. [See here for a link to a conference poster explaining this a bit more].

Our findings

The first thing tutors had observed was students immediately checking their feedback on their smart devices and asking questions. This led to rich conversations about students’ work and further progress in their understanding of the assessment task. We then evaluated the students access patterns to their feedback and compared this with their results. An analysis of the Moodle access data showed that almost all of them accessed the feedback.  A correlation analysis showed that those who had frequent access had better learning outcomes for the assignments [ r(27) = 0.39, p < 0.05].  [The full research findings were published in July 2017].

I loved the enthusiasm with which academics in Studio embraced technologies, supported its further implementation, as together our team reflected on the findings and explored how this might be progressed further.

What I learned from undertaking this project, is the contextual nature of learning (Westera, 2011), but that this can be experienced in so many different ways – including using emerging digital technologies. Of course, not always without difficulties! The main problem we encountered was with the e-portfolios, as the platform used did not support our practice of it as an assessment tool in design Studio – there were too many technical limits. But it did not curb our enthusiasm, and we have continued to engage in discussions and further research about how we might do more, or differently with the assessments to support the students’ learning.

And yet, a crack …

The Studio Unit continues to be offered. The academic in charge used the findings and conclusion to refine the submission process of the tasks, continuing to establish the blended approach to learning. And though I have moved on, it was the opportunity to make a breach, creating just a small crack in the ‘do not touch’ scenario of this learning and assessment space, that is most exciting and something I will continue to explore at the next opportunity.


Biggs, J. B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Lawson, B. (2006). How designers think: The design process demystified (4th ed.). Oxford, UK: Architectural Press, Elsevier.

Westera, W. (2011). On the Changing Nature of Learning Context: Anticipating the Virtual Extensions of the World. Educational Technology & Society, 14(2), 201-211.

Zehner, R., Forsyth, G., Harpe, B. d. l., Peterson, F., Musgrave, E., Neale, D., & Frankham, N. (2009). Volume 1: STP Final Report. Retrieved from Strawberry Hills, NSW:

©Karin Oerlemans 2019

Photo by timothy muza on Unsplash

Do not touch!

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