Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Teaching Students to Visually Represent Basic Principles for Deeper Understanding and Practical Application—Shannon Criss (2014)

Overview

mayan temple

A professor transforms a largely lecture-based architecture class into a hybrid, active-learning experience. In particular, the redesign was focused on teaching students a more sophisticated architectural understanding early in the course by requiring them to visually represent basic course principles through hand-sketches and digital illustration.

Background

I have been developing ARCH 605: Introduction to Natural Forces (now called Visualizing Natural Forces) for eight years. The course is intended to develop intuitive and technical understandings of the natural forces working on buildings: gravity, wind, sunlight, temperature, water, and sound.

I noticed gaps in knowledge and skills in my experience teaching ARCH 605. I found that students were not synthesizing, integrating, or visualizing core concepts with their final assignment submissions. Moreover, I felt that their time and energy could be more effectively utilized during our class meetings and that the course could better connect core natural forces principles through the act of drawing-both hand sketches and the digital drawn model.

In Fall 2014, I radically revised ARCH 605 to bridge this gap, combine core principles with hand-sketches and modeling skills, and improve student engagement with material. To accomplish this, I flipped the course, assigning readings and annotated sketches to be completed before class, and using class time for interactive problem-solving and feedback.

Implementation

My goal for the Fall 2014 course was to increase connections among core concepts, integrating learning, and visualization around five strategies:

Hybridization

I made changes to transform ARCH 605 into a hybrid course, integrating the benefits of face-to-face instruction with the flexibility of online learning. Whereas the class met once a week for direct teaching in workshop and lab modes to discuss content and topics, other aspects of the course content and assignments were assessed and completed in Blackboard.

Flipping the Course

I created more opportunities for students to learn outside of class, reserving more time in class for interactive problem solving, answering questions, and providing opportunities for peer collaboration and direct feedback.

Hands-on/Minds-on

I created smaller lab teams where students could work on assignments within peer-mentoring groups.

Exhibit/Event

Each team was given space to exhibit their assignments and orally present them in a formal setting to faculty and upperclassmen for feedback and instruction on how to improve the work.

Portfolio/Reflection

Instead of taking a final exam, students created portfolios that highlighted their learning over the course of the semester. This mirrors the work we do as architectures. Each student independently packaged all of the work they developed throughout the semester into one notebook and wrote a self-evaluation, explaining how they were active learners throughout the semester.

Student Work

To see the effect the new version of the course had on student learning, I compared the results from a pre-test I provided on the first day of the course to a post-test I provided on the last day of the course. The test scores indicated vast improvement showing that the class went from a 12% to 80% class-average comprehension rate.

I think this iterative and reflective process brought about by the course redesign has had a dramatic impact on students' learning. The final portfolio and revised assignments showed general, marked improvement in students' ability to integrate knowledge in their digital representations compared to what I saw in previous offerings. I see improvements in students' critical thinking capacities, collaborative skill sets, ability to verbally and visually communicate ideas, and be engaged, active learners.

Reflections

Overall, the changes to the course structure positively affected student performance and engagement. The flipped nature of the class allowed me to walk around from table to table and see which students were really getting it and which were not. I could affirm the ones on the right track and encourage those still struggling to keep working with their teams. I had a better idea of how much of the class understood course concepts, so, if we had a day when only 40% of the students understood, I could propose to go through the difficult ideas again. Moreover, students generally appreciated and benefited from the multiple methods in their learning experience.


^Back to top^

Background

Over the course of eight years, I have been developing ARCH 605: Introduction to Natural Forces (now called Visualizing Natural Forces). The overall purpose of this course is to introduce concepts of building science and performance in the areas of materials, structures, environmental systems, and larger environmental relationships. The course is intended to develop intuitive and technical understandings of the natural forces working on buildings: gravity, wind, sunlight, temperature, water, and sound.

Objectives for the course
  • Integrate environmental and cultural forces in the definition of sustainability and apply it to building designs as related to climate and specific environments.
  • Annotate and graphically represent natural forces as related to built form through hand sketches and digital representations.
  • Articulate individual insight that captures core concepts from a variety of texts and assignments and is accomplished through discussion, reviews, and exhibitions.

This course was typically taught as a lecture course with about 60-70 students. In Fall 2014, I had 66 students enrolled. Because students must take a design studio course before enrolling in ARCH 605, most are sophomores in the program. In addition to the main class, the course includes a lab that meets once a week where students can meet in smaller groups to collaborate and receive feedback on their work. This course is the first of several introductory courses that architecture majors take (see Figure 1 below). The course content is divided over the span of the semester to introduce different architectural subjects, like daylight, air-flow, and acoustics. Then, each subject branches off into another, more focused course.

Every student in the architecture program takes six hours of design studio every semester for five years, totaling ten courses. The studios are designed to take all of the skills and knowledge they are learning in other courses (i.e., structural systems, construction systems, etc.) and apply it to designing a building, essentially transferring a broad body of knowledge to general application. However, architecture students often progress toward the fourth-year comprehensive design studio, ARCH 609, with an uneven set of technical skills. When our students do not meet the expected student performance criteria for ARCH 609, most of the time devoted for this course is spent getting caught up rather than learning how to develop and detail their projects.

Faculty members teaching ARCH 609 have also identified gaps in both the core knowledge and the computational skills expected of a fourth-year architecture student. The architecture curriculum committee has determined that one source of the problem is that the courses that provide basic principles and professional core knowledge to support the studio sequence are separate from the computer modeling courses which are offered as electives.

I have noticed similar gaps in knowledge and skills in my own experience teaching ARCH 605. I found that students were not synthesizing, integrating, or visualizing core concepts with their final assignment submissions as introduced through required readings and lectures I delivered. I felt that their time and energy could be more effectively utilized and that the course could better connect core natural forces principles through the act of drawing-both hand sketches and the digital drawn model.

In addition, in recent years there has been an increased external pressure to effectively teach the core principals of natural forces and passive energy early in the education of an architect. There is evidence that 60% of energy is consumed by the construction and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning of buildings. The proper understanding and application of passive systems could effectively improve the energy performance of buildings and alleviate unnecessary burning of fossil fuels and C02 emissions. Increasingly, there's evidence that climate change issues such as the increase of severe storms, glaciers melting at an unprecedented rate, rising tides, increased frequency, and duration of droughts are all critical issues that could be partially combatted with better architectural design. In light of this insight, understanding the fundamental principles of natural forces and passive energy in an introductory level class is crucial. Comprehending these concepts early allows architecture students to apply these core principles through the remaining four years of their college education.

In Fall 2014, I radically revised ARCH 605 to bridge this gap, combine core principles with hand-sketches and modeling skills, and improve student engagement with material. To accomplish this, I flipped the course, assigning readings and annotated sketches to be completed before class, and using class time for interactive problem-solving and feedback. The course developed slowly, in cycles and in an iterative way.

One of the challenges of this course redesign was teaching two different skill sets side by side-core architectural principals and visually representing these core principals. It is incredibly challenging for students to learn both skills simultaneously at the start of their education, but it also provides them opportunities for more sophisticated architectural understanding early on. There is evidence that there are benefits to link both forms of representation, connecting right brain modes of concrete, logical thinking to left brain modes of visual thinking. Overall, I structured this redesign with the goal of increasing students' abilities to understand core principles of natural forces and passive energy, translate an understanding of abstract information into a visual representation, and develop the skills to apply it to their synthetic design studios.

As I redesigned the course, I asked the following questions:

  • Were students effectively learning core principles through the readings prior to class?
  • Were there more effective ways to use class time as a means to review and apply these principles through engaged activities?
  • Could class time be used to provide students the opportunity to share and teach each other, more effectively advancing the knowledge base in applied ways? Furthermore, could the course itself model the manner in which architects practice and utilize drawings to transcribe knowledge into the built form?
  • If the class could be divided into smaller lab sections and in small teams of three students, would they be able to advance their comprehension of the software even further by peer mentoring?
  • Through iterative learning, would they be able to truly learn the principles and be able to transfer ideas through application in meaningful ways?
  • Ultimately, would they be able to transfer this learning to their design studio projects?

^Back to top^

Implementation

My goal for the Fall 2014 course was to increase connections among core concepts, integrating learning, and visualization around five strategies:

Hybridization

I made changes to transform ARCH 605 into a hybrid course, integrating the benefits of face-to-face instruction with the flexibility of online learning. Whereas the class met once a week for direct teaching in workshop and lab modes to discuss content and topics, other aspects of the course content and assignments were assessed and completed in Blackboard. The class Blackboard site included a tab in the navigation menu labeled "Weekly Modules" which contained a variety of learning materials, exercises, and online tutorials students were to have read and responded to before class. For example, students prepared for their labs and assignments through a series of online exercises designed to assist students in learning InDesign, Revit, and EASE, equipping them with more practice in the mediums they will need in their discipline. Students completed and submitted these weekly exercises through the course Blackboard site.

Flipping the course

I created more opportunities for students to learn outside of class, reserving time in class for interactive problem solving, answering questions, and providing opportunities for peer collaboration and direct feedback. In addition to requiring students to complete a reading assignment prior to each class, I also required students to create an Annotated Sketch Summary or "Mind Map" of the reading assignment. These served as highly engaged notes over their reading and required students to practice the skills of visually representing course concepts. These were due at the start of each class, and students received feedback on their work within the week.

We started each class with an in-class quiz (or sketch problem) where students were expected to apply the concepts they learned in the previous assigned reading(s). Students were allowed to use their Annotated Sketch Summary to take the quiz, which provided a built-in incentive to take good notes. Following the quiz, we would have a class-wide discussion, lecture, presentation, or interactive activity whereby students were expected to take notes and sketch concepts they would later apply to the assignments. Sometimes I would give the class a problem and have them work in small groups to solve that problem. Other times I explained a new idea and then asked the class how we might apply this principle. Sometimes we were able to leave the classroom to go sketch something in the building.

Hands-on/minds-on

I created small lab teams where students could work within peer-mentoring groups. Over the course of the semester, students submitted five assignments that required they apply knowledge gained from the lectures and readings. I devoted time within these labs specifically for students to develop their assignments within this supportive, collaborative environment. During this time, they were given the opportunity to apply concepts, work with software, and receive assistance from an assigned lab assistant. Students worked in teams of three; each individual evaluated on their own efforts. These teams critiqued each other's work, shared insights and skill-sets with each other, and ultimately presented together at a final review session (see below).

Exhibit/event

Each team was given space to exhibit their assignments and orally present them in a formal setting to faculty and upperclassmen for feedback and instruction on how to improve the work. These presentations included revised versions of the five assignments students worked on over the course of the semester.

Portfolio/reflection

Instead of taking a final exam, students created portfolios that highlighted their learning over the course of the semester. This mirrors the work we do as architects. Each student independently packaged all of the work they developed throughout the semester (e.g. modules, assignments, quizzes, etc.) into one notebook and wrote a self-evaluation, explaining how they were active learners throughout the semester and showing how they applied course principles to work outside of class-independently finding meaningful examples to them. This allowed them the opportunity to collect the work and re-present it, connecting it to self-reflective writings to identify gains and gaps in their learning.

In addition to the strategies described above, I also made all of the assignment rubrics more explicit to provide students with a clearer picture of what I expected of them. To effectively provide and reinforce critical feedback, I implemented the rubric repeatedly throughout the semester. To reinforce the spirit of possible failure as part of true learning, as well as allow students to chance to learn from their mistakes, I staggered the weight of their assignments; at the start of the semester, the submitted work had little bearing on their grade (1% points), but as they had more time to receive input, feedback, revise and reflect on the work, the value of the work increased (3-5% midway to 20% for final submission). Most students improved the quality of their work through this approach and hence the learning was evident to themselves and others. As we neared the end of the semester and students prepared their work for the exhibition and formal review event, they were able to apply the rubric commentary, peer feedback, lab instructor feedback, and external reviewer feedback to improve the quality and comprehension of the principles through their assignment documentation.

Finally, to evaluate the impact of the new teaching methods on student learning, I assessed the following student work:

  1. Sketching/note-taking Annotated Sketch Summaries in response to assigned readings collected prior to a class quiz (given at the start of class) as well as sketch assignments in response to lecture and in-class discussion to examine their capacity to identify core concepts and re-present them through sketches and discussion.
  2. Online tutorial exercises submitted prior to their lab classes and then given in-lab instructions as part of three-person teams in order to learn essential digital skill sets.
  3. Work collected in a portfolio with a written self-evaluation at the end of the semester to illustrate themselves as active learners.

^Back to top^

Student Work

To see the effect the redesigned version of the course had on student learning, I compared the results from a pre-test I provided on the first day of the course to a post-test I provided on the last day of the course. The test scores indicated vast improvement, showing that the class went from a 12% to 80% class-average comprehension rate. Evaluating both the portfolio self-evaluations and comparing the pre- and post-test results indicated that students also observed their learning had improved through the connected exercises. This scaffolded, iterative approach better utilized pre-class time to learn core principles, devoted in-class time to applied learning and discussions, and a final product that demonstrated learning.

I think this iterative and reflective process brought about by the course redesign has had a dramatic impact on students' learning. In previous offerings of this course, even students earning high scores had difficulty integrating and applying core lessons discussed in class. Students earning lower grades had even greater difficulty integrating and applying evidence, and they also demonstrated fundamental misunderstandings of core principles. Although some students this semester felt that more in-class demonstrations would improve their comprehension of the translation of concept to application, the final portfolio and revised assignments showed general, marked improvement in students' ability to integrate knowledge in their digital representations. Compared to previous semesters, I see improvements in students' critical thinking capacities, collaborative skill sets, ability to verbally and visually communicate ideas, and be engaged, active learners.

Examples of student work pulled from final portfolio submissions:

  1. Mind Map toward beginning of the semester
  2. Mind Map toward end of the semester
  3. Final submission of an assignment; demonstrating the articulation of course concepts through written communication as well as graphical representation.
  4. Final submission of an example of "depth and breadth" in which students apply lessons learned in class to examine, describe, and/or critique a building site.

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Reflections

Shannon Criss

The change in the approach to the readings and learning software was valuable. Students benefited from the reflective sketching process prior to coming to class and also benefited from the explicit instruction on how to develop digital drawings prior to class. The consistent format of the in-class quizzes and clear rubric provided before, mid-way, and as final evaluation helped students internalize this framework.

At the same time, there are several issues I would like to address in future offerings. Students felt that too much was expected from them prior to class, and they felt the need for better in-class exercises to reinforce core principles in a spatial and material way. Students repeatedly complained about the inconsistency of instruction, the quality of the lab-instruction facilities, and capacity of lab instructors to be effective (a couple were strong and the third was weak, having never taken this course).

Greater emphasis on in-class application of evidence through sketch problems helped students appreciate the link between natural forces core principles and how they are represented. However, with a class of 66 students, it was difficult to have more students express ideas and make clear their understanding.

I have identified three changes to improve this issues in future course offerings:

  1. Divide the class into two sections (having approximately 30 students in each section) for better discussion. To accommodate a flipped class, I needed a space with tables where students could work and enough room for my TAs and myself to walk around and check in. I actually made this change in the next course offering in 2015. Dividing the class into two groups worked much better.
  2. Develop better and more demonstration instruments for class-wide and small group analysis in the classroom.
  3. Due to the perceived and evident difference between lab section assignment output, the following is proposed: first, each future lab teaching assistant must have taken this course previously, have excelled with the digital technical skills and application to the assignments, and demonstrated leadership. To build stronger lab instruction, there will be two lab-instructors: the lead lab teaching assistant will have taught the previous year (senior-level student), and the support lab teaching assistant will be new to teaching (junior-level student). Both lab teaching assistants will attend all labs; the lead lab instructor will teach the session while the support lab instructor will learn from the senior instructor and assist individual students with questions. Proceeding this way will hopefully provide effective, consistent feedback during the lab sessions. I anticipate that this will create a more equitable and consistent process of teaching, better mentoring support from year to year, and higher student performance outcomes.

Overall, it was exciting to see that team leadership arose; peers really did teach each other. The flipped nature of the class allowed me to walk around from table to table and see which students were really getting it and which were not. I could affirm the ones on the right track and encourage those still struggling to keep working with their teams. I had a better idea of how much of the class understood the course concepts, so if we had a day when only 40% of the students understood, I could purpose to go through the difficult ideas again. The quizzes and the in-class exercises also provided instant feedback on how much and well students understood; there is not the same kind of instant feedback built into lecture. Furthermore, it may be that the way I described something in a lecture did not help all students understand; it might be more helpful for them to hear someone else explain it again, or maybe they would understand once they were allowed to sketch the ideas out at their tables. It is visualization, it is oral, it is interactive, inviting multiple processes into the learning experience.

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


^Back to top^

Overview

mayan temple

A professor transforms a largely lecture-based architecture class into a hybrid, active-learning experience. In particular, the redesign was focused on teaching students a more sophisticated architectural understanding early in the course by requiring them to visually represent basic course principles through hand-sketches and digital illustration.

Background

I have been developing ARCH 605: Introduction to Natural Forces (now called Visualizing Natural Forces) for eight years. The course is intended to develop intuitive and technical understandings of the natural forces working on buildings: gravity, wind, sunlight, temperature, water, and sound.

I noticed gaps in knowledge and skills in my experience teaching ARCH 605. I found that students were not synthesizing, integrating, or visualizing core concepts with their final assignment submissions. Moreover, I felt that their time and energy could be more effectively utilized during our class meetings and that the course could better connect core natural forces principles through the act of drawing-both hand sketches and the digital drawn model.

In Fall 2014, I radically revised ARCH 605 to bridge this gap, combine core principles with hand-sketches and modeling skills, and improve student engagement with material. To accomplish this, I flipped the course, assigning readings and annotated sketches to be completed before class, and using class time for interactive problem-solving and feedback.

Implementation

My goal for the Fall 2014 course was to increase connections among core concepts, integrating learning, and visualization around five strategies:

Hybridization

I made changes to transform ARCH 605 into a hybrid course, integrating the benefits of face-to-face instruction with the flexibility of online learning. Whereas the class met once a week for direct teaching in workshop and lab modes to discuss content and topics, other aspects of the course content and assignments were assessed and completed in Blackboard.

Flipping the Course

I created more opportunities for students to learn outside of class, reserving more time in class for interactive problem solving, answering questions, and providing opportunities for peer collaboration and direct feedback.

Hands-on/Minds-on

I created smaller lab teams where students could work on assignments within peer-mentoring groups.

Exhibit/Event

Each team was given space to exhibit their assignments and orally present them in a formal setting to faculty and upperclassmen for feedback and instruction on how to improve the work.

Portfolio/Reflection

Instead of taking a final exam, students created portfolios that highlighted their learning over the course of the semester. This mirrors the work we do as architectures. Each student independently packaged all of the work they developed throughout the semester into one notebook and wrote a self-evaluation, explaining how they were active learners throughout the semester.

Student Work

To see the effect the new version of the course had on student learning, I compared the results from a pre-test I provided on the first day of the course to a post-test I provided on the last day of the course. The test scores indicated vast improvement showing that the class went from a 12% to 80% class-average comprehension rate.

I think this iterative and reflective process brought about by the course redesign has had a dramatic impact on students' learning. The final portfolio and revised assignments showed general, marked improvement in students' ability to integrate knowledge in their digital representations compared to what I saw in previous offerings. I see improvements in students' critical thinking capacities, collaborative skill sets, ability to verbally and visually communicate ideas, and be engaged, active learners.

Reflections

Overall, the changes to the course structure positively affected student performance and engagement. The flipped nature of the class allowed me to walk around from table to table and see which students were really getting it and which were not. I could affirm the ones on the right track and encourage those still struggling to keep working with their teams. I had a better idea of how much of the class understood course concepts, so, if we had a day when only 40% of the students understood, I could propose to go through the difficult ideas again. Moreover, students generally appreciated and benefited from the multiple methods in their learning experience.


^Back to top^

Background

Over the course of eight years, I have been developing ARCH 605: Introduction to Natural Forces (now called Visualizing Natural Forces). The overall purpose of this course is to introduce concepts of building science and performance in the areas of materials, structures, environmental systems, and larger environmental relationships. The course is intended to develop intuitive and technical understandings of the natural forces working on buildings: gravity, wind, sunlight, temperature, water, and sound.

Objectives for the course
  • Integrate environmental and cultural forces in the definition of sustainability and apply it to building designs as related to climate and specific environments.
  • Annotate and graphically represent natural forces as related to built form through hand sketches and digital representations.
  • Articulate individual insight that captures core concepts from a variety of texts and assignments and is accomplished through discussion, reviews, and exhibitions.

This course was typically taught as a lecture course with about 60-70 students. In Fall 2014, I had 66 students enrolled. Because students must take a design studio course before enrolling in ARCH 605, most are sophomores in the program. In addition to the main class, the course includes a lab that meets once a week where students can meet in smaller groups to collaborate and receive feedback on their work. This course is the first of several introductory courses that architecture majors take (see Figure 1 below). The course content is divided over the span of the semester to introduce different architectural subjects, like daylight, air-flow, and acoustics. Then, each subject branches off into another, more focused course.

Every student in the architecture program takes six hours of design studio every semester for five years, totaling ten courses. The studios are designed to take all of the skills and knowledge they are learning in other courses (i.e., structural systems, construction systems, etc.) and apply it to designing a building, essentially transferring a broad body of knowledge to general application. However, architecture students often progress toward the fourth-year comprehensive design studio, ARCH 609, with an uneven set of technical skills. When our students do not meet the expected student performance criteria for ARCH 609, most of the time devoted for this course is spent getting caught up rather than learning how to develop and detail their projects.

Faculty members teaching ARCH 609 have also identified gaps in both the core knowledge and the computational skills expected of a fourth-year architecture student. The architecture curriculum committee has determined that one source of the problem is that the courses that provide basic principles and professional core knowledge to support the studio sequence are separate from the computer modeling courses which are offered as electives.

I have noticed similar gaps in knowledge and skills in my own experience teaching ARCH 605. I found that students were not synthesizing, integrating, or visualizing core concepts with their final assignment submissions as introduced through required readings and lectures I delivered. I felt that their time and energy could be more effectively utilized and that the course could better connect core natural forces principles through the act of drawing-both hand sketches and the digital drawn model.

In addition, in recent years there has been an increased external pressure to effectively teach the core principals of natural forces and passive energy early in the education of an architect. There is evidence that 60% of energy is consumed by the construction and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning of buildings. The proper understanding and application of passive systems could effectively improve the energy performance of buildings and alleviate unnecessary burning of fossil fuels and C02 emissions. Increasingly, there's evidence that climate change issues such as the increase of severe storms, glaciers melting at an unprecedented rate, rising tides, increased frequency, and duration of droughts are all critical issues that could be partially combatted with better architectural design. In light of this insight, understanding the fundamental principles of natural forces and passive energy in an introductory level class is crucial. Comprehending these concepts early allows architecture students to apply these core principles through the remaining four years of their college education.

In Fall 2014, I radically revised ARCH 605 to bridge this gap, combine core principles with hand-sketches and modeling skills, and improve student engagement with material. To accomplish this, I flipped the course, assigning readings and annotated sketches to be completed before class, and using class time for interactive problem-solving and feedback. The course developed slowly, in cycles and in an iterative way.

One of the challenges of this course redesign was teaching two different skill sets side by side-core architectural principals and visually representing these core principals. It is incredibly challenging for students to learn both skills simultaneously at the start of their education, but it also provides them opportunities for more sophisticated architectural understanding early on. There is evidence that there are benefits to link both forms of representation, connecting right brain modes of concrete, logical thinking to left brain modes of visual thinking. Overall, I structured this redesign with the goal of increasing students' abilities to understand core principles of natural forces and passive energy, translate an understanding of abstract information into a visual representation, and develop the skills to apply it to their synthetic design studios.

As I redesigned the course, I asked the following questions:

  • Were students effectively learning core principles through the readings prior to class?
  • Were there more effective ways to use class time as a means to review and apply these principles through engaged activities?
  • Could class time be used to provide students the opportunity to share and teach each other, more effectively advancing the knowledge base in applied ways? Furthermore, could the course itself model the manner in which architects practice and utilize drawings to transcribe knowledge into the built form?
  • If the class could be divided into smaller lab sections and in small teams of three students, would they be able to advance their comprehension of the software even further by peer mentoring?
  • Through iterative learning, would they be able to truly learn the principles and be able to transfer ideas through application in meaningful ways?
  • Ultimately, would they be able to transfer this learning to their design studio projects?

^Back to top^

Implementation

My goal for the Fall 2014 course was to increase connections among core concepts, integrating learning, and visualization around five strategies:

Hybridization

I made changes to transform ARCH 605 into a hybrid course, integrating the benefits of face-to-face instruction with the flexibility of online learning. Whereas the class met once a week for direct teaching in workshop and lab modes to discuss content and topics, other aspects of the course content and assignments were assessed and completed in Blackboard. The class Blackboard site included a tab in the navigation menu labeled "Weekly Modules" which contained a variety of learning materials, exercises, and online tutorials students were to have read and responded to before class. For example, students prepared for their labs and assignments through a series of online exercises designed to assist students in learning InDesign, Revit, and EASE, equipping them with more practice in the mediums they will need in their discipline. Students completed and submitted these weekly exercises through the course Blackboard site.

Flipping the course

I created more opportunities for students to learn outside of class, reserving time in class for interactive problem solving, answering questions, and providing opportunities for peer collaboration and direct feedback. In addition to requiring students to complete a reading assignment prior to each class, I also required students to create an Annotated Sketch Summary or "Mind Map" of the reading assignment. These served as highly engaged notes over their reading and required students to practice the skills of visually representing course concepts. These were due at the start of each class, and students received feedback on their work within the week.

We started each class with an in-class quiz (or sketch problem) where students were expected to apply the concepts they learned in the previous assigned reading(s). Students were allowed to use their Annotated Sketch Summary to take the quiz, which provided a built-in incentive to take good notes. Following the quiz, we would have a class-wide discussion, lecture, presentation, or interactive activity whereby students were expected to take notes and sketch concepts they would later apply to the assignments. Sometimes I would give the class a problem and have them work in small groups to solve that problem. Other times I explained a new idea and then asked the class how we might apply this principle. Sometimes we were able to leave the classroom to go sketch something in the building.

Hands-on/minds-on

I created small lab teams where students could work within peer-mentoring groups. Over the course of the semester, students submitted five assignments that required they apply knowledge gained from the lectures and readings. I devoted time within these labs specifically for students to develop their assignments within this supportive, collaborative environment. During this time, they were given the opportunity to apply concepts, work with software, and receive assistance from an assigned lab assistant. Students worked in teams of three; each individual evaluated on their own efforts. These teams critiqued each other's work, shared insights and skill-sets with each other, and ultimately presented together at a final review session (see below).

Exhibit/event

Each team was given space to exhibit their assignments and orally present them in a formal setting to faculty and upperclassmen for feedback and instruction on how to improve the work. These presentations included revised versions of the five assignments students worked on over the course of the semester.

Portfolio/reflection

Instead of taking a final exam, students created portfolios that highlighted their learning over the course of the semester. This mirrors the work we do as architects. Each student independently packaged all of the work they developed throughout the semester (e.g. modules, assignments, quizzes, etc.) into one notebook and wrote a self-evaluation, explaining how they were active learners throughout the semester and showing how they applied course principles to work outside of class-independently finding meaningful examples to them. This allowed them the opportunity to collect the work and re-present it, connecting it to self-reflective writings to identify gains and gaps in their learning.

In addition to the strategies described above, I also made all of the assignment rubrics more explicit to provide students with a clearer picture of what I expected of them. To effectively provide and reinforce critical feedback, I implemented the rubric repeatedly throughout the semester. To reinforce the spirit of possible failure as part of true learning, as well as allow students to chance to learn from their mistakes, I staggered the weight of their assignments; at the start of the semester, the submitted work had little bearing on their grade (1% points), but as they had more time to receive input, feedback, revise and reflect on the work, the value of the work increased (3-5% midway to 20% for final submission). Most students improved the quality of their work through this approach and hence the learning was evident to themselves and others. As we neared the end of the semester and students prepared their work for the exhibition and formal review event, they were able to apply the rubric commentary, peer feedback, lab instructor feedback, and external reviewer feedback to improve the quality and comprehension of the principles through their assignment documentation.

Finally, to evaluate the impact of the new teaching methods on student learning, I assessed the following student work:

  1. Sketching/note-taking Annotated Sketch Summaries in response to assigned readings collected prior to a class quiz (given at the start of class) as well as sketch assignments in response to lecture and in-class discussion to examine their capacity to identify core concepts and re-present them through sketches and discussion.
  2. Online tutorial exercises submitted prior to their lab classes and then given in-lab instructions as part of three-person teams in order to learn essential digital skill sets.
  3. Work collected in a portfolio with a written self-evaluation at the end of the semester to illustrate themselves as active learners.

^Back to top^

Student Work

To see the effect the redesigned version of the course had on student learning, I compared the results from a pre-test I provided on the first day of the course to a post-test I provided on the last day of the course. The test scores indicated vast improvement, showing that the class went from a 12% to 80% class-average comprehension rate. Evaluating both the portfolio self-evaluations and comparing the pre- and post-test results indicated that students also observed their learning had improved through the connected exercises. This scaffolded, iterative approach better utilized pre-class time to learn core principles, devoted in-class time to applied learning and discussions, and a final product that demonstrated learning.

I think this iterative and reflective process brought about by the course redesign has had a dramatic impact on students' learning. In previous offerings of this course, even students earning high scores had difficulty integrating and applying core lessons discussed in class. Students earning lower grades had even greater difficulty integrating and applying evidence, and they also demonstrated fundamental misunderstandings of core principles. Although some students this semester felt that more in-class demonstrations would improve their comprehension of the translation of concept to application, the final portfolio and revised assignments showed general, marked improvement in students' ability to integrate knowledge in their digital representations. Compared to previous semesters, I see improvements in students' critical thinking capacities, collaborative skill sets, ability to verbally and visually communicate ideas, and be engaged, active learners.

Examples of student work pulled from final portfolio submissions:

  1. Mind Map toward beginning of the semester
  2. Mind Map toward end of the semester
  3. Final submission of an assignment; demonstrating the articulation of course concepts through written communication as well as graphical representation.
  4. Final submission of an example of "depth and breadth" in which students apply lessons learned in class to examine, describe, and/or critique a building site.

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Reflections

Shannon Criss

The change in the approach to the readings and learning software was valuable. Students benefited from the reflective sketching process prior to coming to class and also benefited from the explicit instruction on how to develop digital drawings prior to class. The consistent format of the in-class quizzes and clear rubric provided before, mid-way, and as final evaluation helped students internalize this framework.

At the same time, there are several issues I would like to address in future offerings. Students felt that too much was expected from them prior to class, and they felt the need for better in-class exercises to reinforce core principles in a spatial and material way. Students repeatedly complained about the inconsistency of instruction, the quality of the lab-instruction facilities, and capacity of lab instructors to be effective (a couple were strong and the third was weak, having never taken this course).

Greater emphasis on in-class application of evidence through sketch problems helped students appreciate the link between natural forces core principles and how they are represented. However, with a class of 66 students, it was difficult to have more students express ideas and make clear their understanding.

I have identified three changes to improve this issues in future course offerings:

  1. Divide the class into two sections (having approximately 30 students in each section) for better discussion. To accommodate a flipped class, I needed a space with tables where students could work and enough room for my TAs and myself to walk around and check in. I actually made this change in the next course offering in 2015. Dividing the class into two groups worked much better.
  2. Develop better and more demonstration instruments for class-wide and small group analysis in the classroom.
  3. Due to the perceived and evident difference between lab section assignment output, the following is proposed: first, each future lab teaching assistant must have taken this course previously, have excelled with the digital technical skills and application to the assignments, and demonstrated leadership. To build stronger lab instruction, there will be two lab-instructors: the lead lab teaching assistant will have taught the previous year (senior-level student), and the support lab teaching assistant will be new to teaching (junior-level student). Both lab teaching assistants will attend all labs; the lead lab instructor will teach the session while the support lab instructor will learn from the senior instructor and assist individual students with questions. Proceeding this way will hopefully provide effective, consistent feedback during the lab sessions. I anticipate that this will create a more equitable and consistent process of teaching, better mentoring support from year to year, and higher student performance outcomes.

Overall, it was exciting to see that team leadership arose; peers really did teach each other. The flipped nature of the class allowed me to walk around from table to table and see which students were really getting it and which were not. I could affirm the ones on the right track and encourage those still struggling to keep working with their teams. I had a better idea of how much of the class understood the course concepts, so if we had a day when only 40% of the students understood, I could purpose to go through the difficult ideas again. The quizzes and the in-class exercises also provided instant feedback on how much and well students understood; there is not the same kind of instant feedback built into lecture. Furthermore, it may be that the way I described something in a lecture did not help all students understand; it might be more helpful for them to hear someone else explain it again, or maybe they would understand once they were allowed to sketch the ideas out at their tables. It is visualization, it is oral, it is interactive, inviting multiple processes into the learning experience.

Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: cte@ku.edu.


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