Learning in an online studio; the student experience of virtual spaces


The session focuses on a virtual space used in the teaching of design and making at a distance learning university. The paper presented will critique the space used and the learning design surrounding it, drawing on qualitative research with students about their experience of the space and their engagement with it and one another, across the core modules of a design degree.


Insights into the affordances, benefits and challenges of a virtual studio as a teaching and learning space.


The Open University have been teaching design and making at a distance for more than 40 years and have been using tools to make teaching accessible and effective to a diverse range of students, many without conventional entry qualifications. To address the challenges of engaging students remotely, technologies have been adopted and integrated into learning design as they have become widely used and available. Since 2012 design teaching at the OU has used an interface that creates a virtual space in which students can present and share their work in progress and give and receive comments, asynchronously to their peers. This space, known as OpenDesignStudio (ODS), was intentionally designed to replicate many of the affordances of the physical design studio, enabling students who study in isolation to build a sense of community and to learn from one another. ODS is now used across three major, 60 point, design modules at levels 1, 2 and 3 (Years 1 - 3 equivalent). This paper is based on a study carried out to examine the progression of students throughout all three levels related to their use of ODS. The overall study uses both quantitative and qualitative data. However, this paper focuses on qualitative data gained from eleven in-depth interviews with students who have used the interface across different modules. What emerges from the data is a series of themes that give insights into the factors and values affecting student engagement with this online space. The paper also shows the discrepancy in perceptions of progression and pedagogy that exist between students and teachers leading us to consider how the teaching spaces as well as learning design can shape the learning experience of students.