Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Computing and Studio Based Design in Industry, Fine Arts and Architecture

One of today's most food for thought-ish ideas at the ICER conference (from my pov) started with the presentation of a paper by Chris Hundhausen from Washington State University entitled "Prototype Walkthrough: A Studio-Based Learning Activity for Human-Computer Interaction Courses" (HCI). Chris pointed out that studio models have been used for years in Architecture (of buildings and other structures) and Fine Art. The idea of experimenting with a studio model in computing courses is not in itself new. Studio courses have been tried in lower division computing courses and a few other places in the curriculum.

What really got my attention was when Chris, who worked for a few years at Microsoft Corporation as a Useability Engineer, claimed that industry uses a design model very much like the studio model and thus there was an added reason to teach computing in this way. His belief is that we should be able to take ideas from Architecture and Fine Arts pedagogy and apply them to the design phases of HCI pedagogy. My ears perked up. Another possible bridge point between industry and academia (the topic of several of my recent posts)? Architecture, Fine Art, Computing, Hi-tech industry...?

Chris broke down his study into great detail about the stages of design and how stakeholders talk to one another about design and several times referred back to industry practices.Very interesting and well grounded in details that sounded like they came straight from his industry experience.

Someone I was sitting with at my table referred me to another member of the audience who had experience in the studio model and a significant knowledge of design and Architecture and so, for another perspective, I went and spoke with this person. I asked her for ideas about how the pedagogical studio model techniques could be transferred from Architecture and/or Fine Arts to computing. To my surprise she told me in no uncertain terms that the studio model would *not* work in computing. She told me that the way a true studio model works is that the classroom is handed over to a professional who brings in a real project s/he is working on and the students work on it under the direction of the professional. The inverse I note, of sending students out to a client on a service project. In the studio model, according to my conversant, the professional comes to the students and the professor steps out of the way.

She claims this model will not work in computing because the cultures are very different between Archtecture and Fine Arts and that "you can't stand around a compiler and critique it". Is this true?

What do you think? A very thought provoking question. If yes, how? If not, why not?

Chris appears to believe (I'm doing some extrapolation here) that you can - or at least that there are significant fundamental tenets of the professional studio model that can be used in the design of HCI software.

Stretch your mind - can you bring a professional from the high tech industry into the classroom with a real project that they are working on and have them lead the class in a studio model inspired design process?


  1. Very interesting. I used to do a lot of research in conjunction with a group of architects, and regularly went and presented at the AI in Design conference. I believe that computer science in general needs a healthy dose of design thinking, and just submitted an NSF proposal to develop teaching materials.

  2. Bonnie,

    Without necessarily giving away your proposal ideas, what do you think would make a subject matter pedagogy transfer from architecture more or less likely to succeed in computing coursework?

  3. I presented a paper on this very topic at ITiCSE'11. It worked great in my small classes and I plan to use this methodology in all my classes. I teach at the freshman/sophomore level. It takes a giant leap of faith on both the part of the student and faculty member, but once that is done, it makes the class so much more fun. Mark Guzdial was at my talk, highly recommended Chris' work, and it's on my reading list for this term.

  4. Becky,

    Thanks for the paper pointer. I am going to go read it,and I am sure other people here will too.