The multimodal environment of architectural design studios


This presentation focuses on data and conclusions drawn from a doctoral project aiming at identifying and providing a methodological framework to understand design studio interactions (multimodality in design studios) in the context of technology enhanced learning (digital design and communication). Highly established in the disciplinary ethos of design-based professional education, the design studio is a complex learning environment where diverse modes of interaction are orchestrated in rather meaningful assemblies (e.g. speech, drawings, gestural communication, and so on). The "making" of teaching and learning dynamics is here dissected through the interrogation and micro-analysis of multimodal communication.


The key contribution of this presentation is twofold: while it aims to demonstrate multimodal research as a valid perspective to observe digital design education (and provide references to additional related work in design education), it additionally provides examples and records of a research process able to provide methodological insights into the implementation of such perspective. In design research, and design education research.


As well documented, design studio teaching and learning is highly complex, technologically mediated, and situated within disciplinary contexts of practice (e.g. architecture, graphic design, product design, etc.). Often given for granted, the studio environment is not only highly visual. It additionally addresses a number of associated modes of communication in specific contexts of learning such as the predominantly speech-based nature of design reviews, or the text-based nature of design specifications and briefing documents. The architecture design studio is no different, and its inherent modes of communication are established in rather institutionalised and widespread modes of teaching and learning (e.g. drawing, modelling, and so on).

This presentation draws on ideas and conclusions from the doctoral project "Augmented Pedagogies" focused on the identification of communication patterns in the technology-enhanced architectural design studio, and its validity as a framework to document and interrogate teaching and learning practices. The lens through which modes of communication are observed, documented, transcribed, and analysed is that of "multimodality". Multimodality is an approach to educational research that stems from social semiotics and communication studies, and aims at the observation, documentation and investigation of complex communication and representation dynamics. Under the assumption of the design studio as a place of/with communication dynamics (via speech, models, drawings) this presentation focuses on framing those dynamics within a multimodal framework.

In order to illustrate those ideas, two types of data will be presented throughout the presentation, addressing diverse (yet, interrelated) modes of communication that structure two corresponding learning events: the use of augmented reality models as part of student-tutor design tutorials, and the use of Wikis for online student-student communication and design documentation throughout a semester-long studio project. For both cases, the presentation addresses the techniques utilised for the documentation (video recording and online data collection), transcription (construction of communicable data transcripts) and analysis (coding) of data in order to establish a conceptual framework explaining design communication in design studios.

In the first case, the use of speech, gestural communication and actions with/upon models are identified as vehicles to understand the micro-dynamics of design tutorials. After a coding process, these patterns enable the study of diverse teaching and learning strategies utilised by tutors and students, such as technology troubleshooting, shifting organisational dynamics of the design tutorial (I.e. role playing) or the ways in which guidance and expertise is expressed by design tutors (e.g. actions with/upon models and design representations). During analysis of online communication, such observations are expanded based on students' use of online documentation techniques, mostly based on text and images in the form of group meeting minutes, technology troubleshooting, archiving and preparation of design submission materials.

Some key findings of this research relate to design communication and reasoning, and technology-enhanced learning. Firstly, it is demonstrated that multimodal research is a valid lens to investigate complex synchronicities across communication and learning dynamics in the design studio. Additionally, multimodality provides not only a theoretical framework but also a methodological toolkit able to provide methods of data collection, documentation, transcription and analysis for design research and design education research.