Communicating architectural understanding in video
Type of snapshot
- policy or strategy for learning literacies
- central services provision e.g. library, learning development, e-learning, ICT
- provision in the curriculum: skills/literacies addressed in topic module
- ‘learner-led’ provision, e.g. formal and informal mentoring, buddying, skills sharing
- use of technologies to support group working
What was the context for this snapshot?
U30020 Technology and Sustainability – a second year, single semester, undergraduate module in the Department of Architecture. Students develop a critical approach to building construction, structures and environmental design. Emphasis is on understanding buildings through research and development of case studies. It is a compulsory module, required for entry to U30033 Advanced technology, normally in the third year, during which students complete their own architectural project.
Assessment is 100% coursework based on the case study, consisting of an individual building report (90%), submitted both in hard copy and as an assignment on the VLE and a 5-minute group video presentation (10%), submitted on CD and to the VLE media library. Groups are required to record their research data on a wiki (but not assessed for doing so).
Case Studies In groups, students plan and carry out visits to a building or location of their choice. Groups are responsible for the management of data collection in a private group wiki area in preparation for submission of individual building reports which form the bulk of the assessment for the module. Building data is stored and collated in the wiki in the three thematic areas on which the building reports will be assessed: construction, structure and environmental design. Use of the wiki is required but not assessed. In addition, groups plan and produce a 5-minute digital video presentation about the building they are studying. The videos are assessed for how effectively they communicate a group’s architectural understanding of their building. The videos are subsequently peer reviewed by the whole class.
Challenges Group size and manageability The class is quite large: c.120 students. The programme requires students to carry out a building case study in groups which should not exceed 6 members. The members of the group are self-selecting from their design unit of around 10 – 15 second year students. (Design is taught in unit groups led by two tutors, which are vertical units of around 25 – 30 second and third year students.) The design unit staff propose a range of buildings to study, according to the kind of design work they intend to focus on subsequently. The student groups choose a building from this selection for their case study. In this way the case study work can inform the subsequent design work in a particular design unit. The logistics of group formation, building selection, field trip planning, data collection, video production and tutorial support for 20 groups are complex.
Duration The case studies must be completed within 9 weeks, to allow more free time for design studio work in the last 3 weeks of the semester.
Sustainability Availability of buildings: buildings, if revisited year on year, become over-researched and their owners resistant to student visits. Students have in the past researched Oxford buildings but needed to move further afield. Field trips to more distant locations are more costly.
Group autonomy To increase the effectiveness of the case study as a holistic learning experience, it was decided to devolve more responsibility for organising their research to students, away from staff, e.g. students had to bid for support funds; they were not accompanied on their field trips by staff; students had to be aware of ethical and security issues, e.g. having to negotiate permission to film locations and administer consent forms for surveys.
Funding To help meet these challenges, the tutor successfully applied for a Fellowship of the Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research (CETL). Her fellowship researches the design of teaching and learning spaces that respond to changing student activities and approaches to learning. The funds were used to design and set up a learning environment capable of fully supporting the students in carrying out their case studies. For example, to help meet the costs of field trips she used some of these funds to introduce a bidding system for refund of travel and other expenses funding was available to average around £30 each. Expenses were refunded on presentation of receipts.
What kind of learners were involved in accessing this provision or support?
120 second year undergraduates architecture students, mainly full-time, preparing for advanced design studio work later in the semester and in their third year. The module is delivered through blended learning, via lectures, seminars, group tutorials, design studio work and field trips, supported by a VLE and dedicated wiki spaces for design units.
What skills or literacies were particularly being addressed?
Module learning outcomes were expressed in the handbook given to students in terms of Knowledge and Understanding, Disciplinary/Professional Skills and Transferable skills using standard University frameworks (Appendix i)
To describe the digital skills and literacies addressed in this course, we have applied, post facto, the emerging Brookes framework for digital literacies (Appendix ii).
Who provided the support? How was support provided?
A wide range of support was provided for all groups.
- One full teaching day was devoted to preparing for the case studies. This included an introduction to group data collection on the wiki by a Computer Services Learning Technologist, an introduction to videoing buildings for case studies by an associate lecturer and guidance on research ethics issues and policies from a research fellow and School ethics officer.
- Time slots were scheduled for follow-up tutorials on data collection and analysis and video creation for all groups and could be booked via online sign-up sheets on the VLE.
- Design tutors advised on building choice.
- Online tutorials were provided by Computer Services and School Learning Technologists on use of the wiki and on making videos.
- Tutorial feedback sessions were arranged on the progress of group data collection and analysis.
- Group wiki page templates were developed to facilitate resource material upload and organisation based on the main assessment themes (construction, structure and environmental design).
- Online feedback on the videos was provided in written form via the wiki; feedback on individual reports was provided in written and audio formats via the VLE.
- Evaluation feedback was collected via the course VLE about the experience of making a video and using the wiki to gather and organise resources. Support provision was also evaluated.
- How groups organised themselves was largely their responsibility, except that they were required to lodge the data they collected in the wiki as a record of their work. Since their actions in the wiki were not assessed, students were effectively at liberty to organise their data in any way that was effective for them, prior to deposit in the wiki. The fact that many chose the wiki to manage their group resources without the motivation of assessment suggests that they were developing an understanding of its usefulness and hence becoming literate in harnessing this digital tool to their needs, i.e. to aggregate and organise digital information from a number of sources in a single location for the benefit of group data collection and individual report writing.
Benefits, outcomes, and lessons learned
Students have enjoyed using a range of technologies, especially video and the wiki, in the preparation and presentation of their case studies. There is soft evidence that students gained an appreciation of the wiki and how to use it as a group resource despite its use not being driven by assessment.
Video is essential to students synthesising their understanding of a building and conveying the sense of a building in 3D. Students are proud of the digital artefacts they produced, seeing them as valuable for their professional portfolios.
To ensure the sustainability of this approach to case studies beyond the period of funding of the tutor’s fellowship, questions about the identification of suitable buildings and funding of visits must be addressed. Nevertheless, the high level of literacy demonstrated by the students in manipulating a range of technologies, particularly video and the wiki, to communicate their architectural understanding of a chosen building testifies to the effectiveness of the approach as an example of excellent provision for digital skills development in the curriculum.
Further evidence of developing digital literacies is hinted at in student feedback, gathered via an online questionnaire to which just under a third of the class responded. The majority of respondents (60%) felt that the creation of a research video presentation had given them an opportunity to develop useful skills. Predictably since not assessed, use of
The wiki had a more mixed reception, one student remarking that it would be better assessed or avoided. However, the existence of a group resource area was appreciated and some comments revealed an understanding that being prepared to commit time to the group and its organisation was an investment that would also benefit the individual.