The identity and portrayal of the design studio teacher in the hybrid studio classroom.

This is an edited version of my MSc dissertation and therefore a piece of student work and should not be held as a published article. I have switched off comments for this post, but please feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to discuss.


Studio, the signature pedagogy of art and design teaching maintains its ancient identity as a discipline used to teach students the habits of thinking, doing and being in order to prepare them for life as a practitioner. However, regardless of the impact technology has made on society and culture, and the increasing demand for on-line education, the studio as a practice remains almost unchanged. This study set out to explore the experiences of five studio teachers, currently teaching in a hybrid (on-line/face-to-face) programme teaching design This explores teacher-practitioner identity, how teaching presence is created in the studio (on-line and face-to-face) and the impact that technology or other factors may have on this. 

Using semi-structured interviews and teaching observations to collect experiences from current design studio teachers, themes pertaining to the three areas of interest were formed. The findings from this study suggest that the identity is created and recreated, and the harmonising of sub-identities, including that of practitioner, create teacher identity as a whole. It is this identity which the teacher seeks to portray to their students and key findings emerged showing the importance to teachers of creating relationships with on-line students much in the way a teacher does on campus. Interesting findings around the hybrid classroom emerged showing that student desires and motivation play a more important role than the on-line environment with on-campus students staying away from the studio and on-line students eager to take part. Lastly, similarly to elsewhere in education, class size and student make-up are factors which impact the success of studio teaching, and although elsewhere technology may assist in some elements of this, technology itself cannot be seen as a miracle cure-all where teacher-student ratios are stretched.

1. Introduction

In spite of a steady increase in on-line learning in higher education over the last 30 years, art and design maintains its core as a hands-on studio-based discipline (Belluigi, 2016; Fleischmann, 2018; Rodriguez et al., 2018). Design studio pedagogy is focused around the setting of a design problem and the students’ exploration of and solution to this, supported feedback from the teacher and fellow students, at various intervals during the project. Although on-line design courses are beginning to emerge, there is still uncertainty on the part of the teachers about how successful virtual design studio models can be (Bradford et al., 1994), primarily in the replication of traditional studio teaching (Kvan, 2001a). However, with current changes in the higher education landscape including increasing student numbers (Blanden and Machin, 2004), changing expectations (Longden, 2006), and the effects of widening participation strategies (Shaw et al., 2007), as well as changes to the design field itself (Fleischmann, 2015), we are seeing experimentation with incorporating on-line technologies into the studio (McClean et al., 2013). 

The inspiration for this study is a result of my professional interest as a learning technologist working in the art education sector, my personal interest in the concept of studio teaching and my awareness that there is a perception amongst some studio teachers that the advent of on-line technologies impacts negatively on the teaching of art and design. This negative impact is thought to be due to the erosion of the traditional teaching styles of one-to-one coaching, reflective learning and the social culture of the studio (Fleischmann, 2018) which come together to teach the habits of doing, thinking and being, associated with the signature pedagogy of these disciplines (Boling and Smith, 2014). 

I carried out interviews and observations with five teachers involved in an existing design programme with the purpose of gathering information on the design studio teacher, to establish how they create a presence and how various factors including technology have influenced this. The subject of this study is a postgraduate design programme on offer in an art school which runs face-to-face and on-line courses using the same lessons, teachers and tools. This has created a unique opportunity to ask teaching staff about their experience of delivering a design programme with both face-to-face students and those on-line.

During this study, I will use the term studio to specifically refer to the pedagogy relating to the design studio rather than the physical space. When referring to the physical studio, this will be made apparent by discussing action “in the studio”. I felt that this would allow for a more structured investigation into how studio, as a concept, influenced the identity of the teacher and in turn how this influenced teaching decisions, rather than a simple comparison of technologies, say drawing table over digital drawing tablet. 

The collection and analysis of data for this research was carried out using qualitative methods to better illustrate the experiences of the participants and to collect and shape insights (Kvale, 2007; Radclyffe-Thomas, 2011). I have used semi-structured interviews and teaching observations to gather data and chose to perform this study inductively, allowing theory to develop from the data rather than data being collected to test a theory. The analysis of data was undertaken using a thematic coding framework which exposed interesting and pertinent themes to provide a richer context. 

This dissertation focuses on three areas:

  • To what extent do design teachers have a distinct teacher-practitioner identity? 
  • How do design studio teachers create a sense of presence for students in face-to-face and on-line contexts?
  • What impact is technology having on studio, and what other factors are influencing its current form?

The first part of this study will review existing literature beginning with a wider scope of signature pedagogy and identity before narrowing to look at teaching presence and teaching in the studio (face-to-face and virtual), concluding with a review of external factors which may affect studio teaching. The methods and design of this study will be discussed with the aims of the study and research setting explained, justification will be provided for the use of inductive methods and details provided regarding the description of the participants, data collection and analysis as well as limitations and ethical considerations. Lastly the findings will be discussed in relation to the three research questions. 

2. Literature review

2.1 Introduction 

The concept of teacher identity and presence is a widely researched field with active input from many areas. This literature review focuses on themes which emerged from the interviews and observations I have carried out, in keeping with the inductive approach taken. These themes are as follows: the teacher in the studio and the influences on the teacher and their portrayal of self, the studio in the current technological climate and the external influences on studio teaching. 

2.2 Studio 

Architecture and design is unusual in its almost universal adoption of the design studio as its foremost learning pedagogy (Salama and Wilkinson, 2007). However, the advantages and failings associated with studio are not exclusive to design. These widely used forms of teaching, associated with particular professions, were studied by Shulman (2005) and are referred to as signature pedagogies. Shulman’s idea of signature pedagogies was developed from research exploring the education of doctoral students from a range of disciplines (Golde, 2007; Gurung et al., 2009; Shulman, 2005), showing that some pedagogical enactments were typical across individual or groups of disciplines. Examples include the field trip in geography, Socratic method in philosophy, the studio method in art and design and even vocal warm-up in theatre. These patterns of activities, assessment and interactions are discussed as signatures not just of the arts but of all educational disciplines having a purpose greater than the instillation of knowledge. They are designed deliberately to teach habits, ways of thinking, doing and being, as an induction into a profession, the teaching of how to be an artist, an architect, or an actor (Belluigi, 2016; Budge, 2016; Chick et al., 2012; Gurung et al., 2009; Thomson et al., 2012). With particular reference to the arts, O’Connor (2007) & Thomson et al. (2012) define this further to consider the physicality of arts knowledge transfer through the continuing community of the studio, and the tacit knowledge of generations being shared by the teacher as principal artist. 

However, in contrast, recent research has focused on identifying burgeoning pedagogies (Chick et al., 2012; Golde, 2007; Gurung et al., 2009), with work such as by Horn (2013) arguing for recognition of the Oxford Tutorial as a signature pedagogy specific to a singular institution. This is in direct contrast to Shulman’s theory that a key identifying feature of signatures is that they exist across institutions, cutting across institutional borders (2005) and therefore although it can be stated that the Oxford tutorial is widely recognised and is perhaps a signature of the institution itself, it does not fall into the definition of a signature pedagogy as explained by Schulman. In his argument, Horn (2013, p. 351) poses that we see ‘philosophically a chicken and egg question’ where we ask which came first. Is it the pedagogy influencing the discipline or is the discipline itself influencing the pedagogy? 

This is very familiar to the behaviours seen in this study with the traditional studio concept being reimagined virtually, influenced by teaching staff who entered the profession relatively recently bringing with them habits and ways of thinking and doing which had been influenced by changes to the industry brought on by technological advances in the field. It could be argued that the virtual design studio (VDS), and the opportunities it has brought for reimagining teaching, could be an influencer that assists not in the creation of a burgeoning signature pedagogy, but rather that we can see the influence from the field now playing a part in the reimagining of existing pedagogy. 

2.3 Identity: the teacher-self

Existing literature has shown a widespread interest in teacher identity with an increasing interest in the impact of personal beliefs, experiences and interests on the identity of the teacher (Akkerman and Meijer, 2011; Alsup, 2006; Beauchamp and Thomas, 2009; Day, 2004). Previous research traditionally focussed on what a teacher must learn in order to become a teacher, such as knowledge or competencies (Grossman and McDonald, 2008) but this assumes that all teachers experience development in their identities and indeed in their roles in a linear fashion. Assuming that all teachers experience the same steps from novice to expert, when in fact, there may be differences in the development of teachers individually  throughout their careers (Akkerman and Meijer, 2011; Beijaard et al., 2000). Through a review of research examining professional identity in regard to teachers and teacher education, Beijaard et al. (2004) conclude that, teacher professional identity is an ongoing process of interpretation and reinterpretation of key experiences (Adams, 2007; Anderson, 1981; Beijaard et al., 2004; Shreeve, 2011; Watson, 2006). Watson (2006) extended this to propose that the recognition of similarities and differences in experience was essential in allowing the teacher to recognise their identity journey and suggests that the sense of teacher-self was produced due to this personal combination of subjectivities. This acknowledgement of the importance of the teacher’s personal experiences and their interpretations of them allows discussion to shift towards the teacher’s perspective rather than as an object viewed externally. This means the teacher can be viewed in a more holistic fashion.

2.3.1 Sub-identities

Research has also concluded that as well as being an ongoing process, teacher identity is also a complex creation of multiple sub-identities, created, changed and discontinued in response to key social contexts and relationships (Alsup, 2006; Beauchamp and Thomas, 2009; Rodgers and Scott, 2008). Describing this, Beijaard et al. (2000) stated that teacher identity consisted of three sub-identities, subject matter expert, pedagogical expert and didactical expert. Day et al. (2006) refined these sub-identities as professional, situated and personal identity. Beijaard et al. (2004) generalise in later work that identity is made from more malleable sub-identities relating to teachers’ different relationships and their contexts. However, regardless of possibilities for contextual and social influences on teacher identity make-up, the specifics of sub-identities remain vague and requires further research to more fully address this area.

2.3.2 Projecting identity

Adams (2007) and Widdicombe (1998) also highlight sociality, finding that identity is not simply about processing these experiences internally. They found that identity is a social construct founded on ways of being which are both personal and projected for others. It should be noted that although this can imply a sense of performance, it does not necessarily invoke a dramaturgical aspect of the persona as an act and the true person hiding behind (Goffman, 1973). Rather, the interaction with, and understanding of, experiences are at the core of many of the decisions made regarding what a teacher’s role may mean to that individual. This in turn influences personal teaching practice (Adams, 2007; Calderhead, 1996; Rodgers and Scott, 2008), and how the teacher is perceived by others, including their students. I will discuss this perception of the teacher in more detail in section 2.4. 

2.3.3 Challenging identity

It is also important to note that not all influences are within the control of the teacher nor do they necessarily have positive outcomes. The transition from face-to-face to on-line teaching has been shown to be particularly challenging for teachers (Richardson et al., 2015; Richardson and Alsup, 2015), and for some the change feels as if their teaching identity is under threat as many teachers feel that their professional identities are tied to their face-to-face teaching where they already have extensive experience and expertise (Redmond, 2011). The work of reconstructing professional identity and practice takes time and without support and training many feel frustrated in trying to replicate their face-to-face teaching in an on-line setting (Bonk and Dennen, 2003). In further studies specific to on-line teacher identity, the impact of autonomy or lack of it was raised in situations where teachers have had no input in curriculum or course design. Richardson et al. (2015) found that when teachers have no control over the courses they teach, they suffer, feeling that their role as teacher is reduced which in turn affects how they present themselves to their students.

2.3.4 Challenges from change

External factors influencing the beliefs of teacher-self are highlighted when looking at changes to higher education and the teacher role. The impact on the role of teacher was highlighted in research discussing the pressures for change from a wide variety of sources, from finance and facilities to societal change. These changes were found to be placing a strain on the environments and cultures of the teacher which in turn raised questions about best teaching practice from teachers themselves (Koch et al., 2002; McClean et al., 2013; Vowles et al., 2012). However, change is not new with the current widening participation plan being seen in higher education originating from the report of the Robbins Committee (Robbins, 1963). Subsequent development of the agenda by successive governments have focused on various aspects, just one of which is the low participation rate of students from poorer socio-economic groups (Dearing, 2012; Greenbank, 2006; The Department for Education and Skills, 2003) and altering this is now a priority for higher education institutions. Consequently, this drive to increase diversity in the student body has increased the diversity of prior educational experience and led to a cultural widening of student bodies (Shaw et al., 2007; Swann, 2002) requiring changes to established teaching practice to incorporate larger classes and diversity of student needs (Chen and Pitts, 2006; McClean and Hourigan, 2013). Unfortunately, as with any change to established practice, there comes an element of anxiety as teachers evaluate and redefine themselves as teachers through the changes to their role (Gray, 2007; Richardson et al., 2012; Swann, 2002). Traditional practice such as the studio, which historically sees low student to teacher ratios, now needs to be reimagined for larger class sizes, as a result traditional teaching roles such as one-to-one feedback and mentoring may not be as effective in a larger scale environment (Swann, 2002). 

This requirement to re-evaluate the teacher’s perception of their role is similar to the challenge seen for face-to-face teachers who have been required to re-evaluate their teaching role in an on-line situation, both requiring contemplation of the teaching behaviours portraying the teacher.

2.4 Presence: portraying the teacher

Teaching presence is a difficult concept to quantify with research unable to find exactly what behaviours or skills create presence. Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006) and Scott (2016) describe presence as creating a sense of being there, of being receptive to the cognitive and physical needs of the students in the classroom. 

Research has shown that the relationships between teacher and student are the foundation in supporting student achievement, with the teacher directing and guiding but also nurturing and caring (Waterson, 2011). Nodding (2003) chose the word presence to describe the caring relationship of a teacher towards a student. She stated that it was not necessary to form a lasting, personal relationship with every student, but that it was essential for the student to feel confident that they have the attention of the teacher when required. However, according to Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006) the pedagogy of the teacher is the most visible characteristic of presence – by paying close attention to the students at work and analysing and responding to what they see, the teacher is attending to learning itself. Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006) propose that if the teacher’s connection in any of these areas is weak, then their ability to be present to the student is compromised.

In discussing the presence of the teacher when relating to on-line teaching, it is often connectedness and receptivity that is sought-after, and perhaps unsurprisingly, most often research in this area has come from those looking to create this sense of connection. In contrast to Rodgers and Raider-Roth (2006) who claimed that presence could not be reduced to a list of behaviours, Garrison et al. (2000) aimed to provide a framework to assist the on-line teacher in creating presence. The framework aimed to provide a method for those new to on-line teaching to translate specific teaching behaviours seen in face-to-face teaching into the on-line environment, but much like face-to-face teaching, it has proven difficult to specify exactly what the teacher does to create presence. However, as already discussed, teaching presence is a difficult concept to specify and is reliant on the individual reactions to, and interactions with, the student. Therefore, a framework can only provide high level guidance, requiring the teacher to make decisions about requirements on an individual basis. 

Most importantly, it was established that pedagogic instruction is created through a variety of modalities including speech, language and action, acting together semiotically (Ivinson, 2012). Analysis of student feedback by Rogers and Lea (2005) acknowledged that not all modalities were perceived as equal and that face-to-face ranked highest with students in terms of feeling connected to their teacher, with a decrease for televisual, a further decrease for audio-only and a relatively low ranking for computer discussion forums. However, relevant to this, studies exploring on-line teaching showed that the perception of the teacher as being present in these modalities was more complicated. Wang et al. (2019) state that presence was not simply associated with the visual presence of the teacher in video media, rather, teacher presence in a video lecture could be both increased and decreased by facial expression and animation of movement. This suggests that the modality itself is not the greatest factor but that the teacher’s choice of physical movement or gesture were essential and therefore perceived connection may be more significant in creating the feeling of teaching presence on-line, as with face-to-face. We should therefore question the perceived belief that a particular environment, such as the physical studio, is fundamental in the creation of teaching presence as a relationship of caring and interaction between teacher and student.

2.5 Teaching in the studio

The seminal work of Schon in theorising professional education (1983, 1985, 1987) has been the dominant theory of practice for design studio education, but recent work by educators such as Belluigi (2016), Harwood (2007) and Webster (2005), have built on this to demonstrate the importance of the teaching relationship between student and teacher, and the dynamics this creates. This is especially prevalent in the one-to-one reflective feedback (desk crit), which is the backbone of the studio model. The relationship built between teacher and student is foundational, but the role of the teacher in this relationship can take many forms. Research concentrating on the teacher’s understanding of their role found that the majority of teachers expressed a connection to the traditional atelier model of the expert as coach (Belluigi, 2016; Webster, 2004). Within this model teaching is placed in a relaxed, one-on-one setting, but within the open studio where conversations are free to be heard and acted upon by all. A close personal relationship was seen as the expected dynamic for the teacher as coach (Harwood, 2007; Webster, 2004) who acts as support, guidance and counsel and for the trusting relationship needed for the student in this environment.

However, there have always been critics of this method, recently Swann (2002) called for an end to this behaviour, which he called “sitting by Nellie.” Swann maintains that it is not sustainable in the current diverse classroom setting with its pressures and requirements, finding that teachers felt they could only enact the coaching model for those students who were already of a high level and fully acculturated (Brockbank and McGill, 1998; Stevens, 2002; Webster, 2005). Similarly, students reported feeling that tutors showed annoyance when they were not quick to understand and enact feedback (Webster, 2004) implying that Swann’s perception of the sustainability of this model may be accurate and it may be difficult to action in the larger and more diverse higher education classrooms which are becoming more common. 

The introduction of technology into the classroom in higher education is sometimes seen as a method to reduce the burden on teachers (Bender and Vredevoogd, 2006; Bradford et al., 1994; Koch et al., 2002) caused by the larger, more diverse classroom. Some believe class-size and diversity can be overcome by the use of on-line communication and resource sharing methods to effectively transform any face-to-face setting into a blended or hybrid environment (Hart and Zamenopoulos, 2011). These on-line communication tools also seek to overcome distance, allowing students to be present in the studio without the need to travel or relocate in order to study. However, alongside the benefits, technology also brings anxieties around its use, best practice and impact on the tradition of studio itself.

2.6 The virtual studio

There has been an almost U.K. wide adoption of virtual learning environments (VLEs) in the last thirty years (Browne et al., 2006) and many studio taught courses are experimenting with technology and collaborative tools (Bender and Vredevoogd, 2006; Crowther, 2013; Hart and Zamenopoulos, 2011; Kvan, 2001a). Design studio pedagogy itself is focused around the setting of a design problem and the students’ exploration of and solution to this, referred to by Schon as demonstrating reflection-in-action (1985, 1987). In all cases, learning is directed by continual interactions between student and teacher (such as the desk crit) providing an opportunity for iterative, formative feedback, before the student presents their solution to the design jury. In a traditional studio setting, this is open for all to participate and observe, but it is this socialisation and interaction of feedback that the virtual design studio (VDS) has so far struggled to replicate (Bradford et al., 1994). Kvan (2001a) highlighted these difficulties using the term ‘bandwidth’ to refer to the level of difficulty experienced when trying to recreate the open and participatory nature of the face-to-face studio and multiple synchronous participants. Studies recognise the impact where in a synchronous on-line environment, attempting to replicate the interaction and wide participation arrangements of the daily desk crit creates a necessity for the teacher in the virtual studio to prepare, plan and acknowledge communication needs in advance (Bradford et al., 1994; Broadfoot and Bennett, 2003; Kvan, 2001a). This issue is amplified by the practice of having a design jury at the end of each project, where the student is expected to present their work for discussion by a much larger audience. Although these problems can be addressed using asynchronous methods, these too have not been without problems for the participatory nature of the studio (Bradford et al., 1994; Crowther, 2013). The social and cultural interactive elements of the studio culture have proven a challenge in situations where crit participants can review materials on-line and leave comments if they wish to participate (Bradford et al., 1994; Crowther, 2013; Hart and Zamenopoulos, 2011). Although this does reduce Kvan’s (2001a) bandwidth issues in terms of ease, it also raises social learning issues where students choose to lurk rather than participate in conversation and where student interaction and feedback often lack the volume and length of a synchronous in-studio review (Bradford et al., 1994; Chen et al., 1994). Crowther (2013) argues that the degree of self-motivation and autonomy required does not suit all students for all activities, however widening student abilities, cultures and expectations make this a difficult student interaction for teachers to manage. This lack of social-learning opportunities and ability to provide reliable, integral feedback makes the VDS a difficult environment in which to replicate traditional teaching (Crowther, 2013) and therefore there may still be work to be undertaken in order to create a truly authentic virtual studio experience. 

2.7 Changing culture of industry and possibilities for technology inclusion

In contrast to the expectations of VDS to replicate traditional teaching, some researchers are choosing to look instead at the opportunities technology offers for socialisation and community interaction, which rather than attempting mimicry of traditional teaching, can more readily prepare students for life in the current and changing design industry (Crowther, 2013; Fleischmann, 2013, 2015; Rodriguez et al., 2018; Saghaf et al., 2012). 

Technology has changed the way designers work, how they produce material and how they engage with other designers, the public and customers. Traditional designer roles are changing (Fleischmann, 2015; Shaughnessy, 2013) and researchers say that design education needs to be rethought in terms of how students are prepared for industry. Highlighting what Fleischmann (p. 2015, p. 2) calls the ‘democratisation of design’, more people have edged into what was once the creative domain of designers via crowdsourcing platforms such as and This means how design is practised has changed and informal design teaching and learning is increasing (Lupton and Bost, 2006). There is a global rise in the number of design and creation spaces or ‘maker spaces’ uniting people with a common interest in creation, and Fleischmann (2013, 2015), Lutpon and Bost (Lupton and Bost, 2006) and Shaughnessy (2013) argue that the expectations of the design industry is changing. We are now seeing design theory courses offered for free on Massive Open on-line Courses (MOOCS), and although hands-on design classes are rare to find on higher education supported MOOC platforms, they are beginning to emerge on smaller scale on-line learning platforms such as, and of course 

Fleischmann (2013, 2015) suggests that formal design education needs to respond to keep up. Current methods of one-to-one reflective practice and community of practice developed within the studio need to be assessed and expectations of what the studio means both physically and socially need to be revised. However, regardless of the take-up of free or low risk learning on-line, further research has shown that students themselves are less inclined towards fully on-line design learning (Fleischmann, 2018). Instead, students prefer to a blended environment where the perceived benefits of face-to-face, such as instant teacher and peer feedback, and easy collaboration are maintained, but with the opportunity to explore options that augment the studio environment such as video tutorials and incorporation of socially enhanced learning utilising tools readily found in the current design industry.

2.8 Summary

This chapter has outlined the literature regarding the concept of studio as a design school pedagogy and discussed the teacher and teaching pertaining to this. The research acknowledges the importance of the teacher’s experiences and interpretations of them in the formation of identity, allowing the discourse to shift from the teacher as an object to an exploration of the teacher’s experiences and how this affects the teacher’s portrayal of themselves to their students. Particularly pertinent for this study were the findings of sub-identities and how these are harmonised into the general identity of the teacher, which will allow for further investigation into the identity of the design teacher in particular, including how previous practice can influence both teaching in the studio and also the concept of the studio itself. 

With the focus of this study being the hybrid design studio, the literature portraying the concerns of studio teachers is interesting. The perception of studio teachers that there are difficulties in trying to recreate traditional face-to-face studio activities in the virtual environment highlights similarities seen throughout literature discussing on-line teaching identity and the anxieties of teachers more generally. It would seem that the desire to recreate face-to-face teaching is universal in teacher assumptions about their role. In both cases the anxiety of what these changes meant for them as teachers was highlighted and when reviewed alongside literature discussing the effects on the classroom of cultural changes such as larger class sizes and changing students cohorts, the importance of the personal experiences of the teacher and how these impact on what they perceive their role to be gives an interesting focus on how teacher identity and teaching in the classroom is connected and how this may relate to the findings of this study around the design teacher’s identity in particular and how, given these concerns, they portray this identity to their students in a hybrid programme.

In the next chapter, I will discuss the research design, data collection and analysis in regard to this study.

3. Research design and method

3.1 Introduction

As previously discussed, the technological advancements of the last thirty years have allowed on-line education to become more feasible technologically, financially and operationally (Fleischmann, 2018). However, universities offering art and design programmes are slow in offering on-line design education (Kvan, 2001b). Research exploring on-line design studio dwells on the potential loss of interactions between teacher and students, and the tacit nature of knowledge transfer associated with design studio teaching. This suggests that the difficulties of asynchronous interaction within the highly social bounds of the studio make it difficult to truly replicate design education online. 

This study therefore aims to evaluate the perceptions of the teacher in the design studio, focusing on their experiences, identity creation, and influences on teaching through the hybrid and on-line environments. 

Three research questions frame my investigation: 

  • To what extent do design teachers have a distinct teacher-practitioner identity? 
  • How do design studio teachers create a sense of presence for students in face-to-face and on-line contexts?
  • What impact is technology having on studio, and what other factors are influencing its current form?

3.2 Research setting and participants 

Data collection was from an established postgraduate programme running in an art school. Originally an on-campus programme, it opened up to on-line students but chose to teach both groups as one programme, rather than separately. It should be noted that, for the purpose of study and teaching, all interactions for on-line students take place through the same Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) along with the on-campus students – accessing the same teaching materials, recorded lectures and class interactions. However, although essentially, they are taught as one cohort, staff do acknowledge the need for asynchronicity for on-line students, and offer the option of on-line meetings, workshops and feedback to accommodate this in addition to the teaching materials available within the VLE. 

The participants consisted of higher education teachers, all currently teaching on the studied programme, bringing a range of teaching experience, practice experience and backgrounds. With such a small group of participants, it is difficult to provide individual information without compromising anonymity, therefore the information provided gives a background to the study as a whole but is not intended to be in-depth for any single participant.

Due to the small number of participants, all interview and observation data were anonymised prior to analysis. Gender and nationality-neutral monikers have been assigned, and all identifying labels or names related to courses have been removed.

3.3 Methods

This study aimed to build an understanding from the participants’ perspectives and observation of teaching to explore the portrayal of presence in the design studio. I used qualitative methods to explore these perspectives, as the research aimed to illustrate the experiences of the participants and to collect and shape insights for future use (Kvale, 2007; Radclyffe-Thomas, 2011). The study was carried out using inductive methods (in order to allow theory to develop from the data rather than data being collected to test a theory), using semi-structured interviews and teaching observations. 

Semi-structured interview data provided contextual, real-world insights into the beliefs and perceptions of the participants and the teaching observations provided in situ access to behaviours and actions which the researcher could witness and record textually. Qualitative research is interpretive, meaning data from semi-structured interviews and observations may produce results which are unable to be generalised beyond the small participant group involved. However, interviews allowed for a more in-depth comprehension of the participant perceptions, motivations and emotions (Kvale, 2007), these along with teaching observations, allowed me to witness classroom actions and events in order to develop a more holistic understanding of the teaching being studied in a manner which was as accurate and objective as possible within limitations (DeWalt and DeWalt, 2002). 

3.3.1 Data Collection and analysis

i. Semi-structured interviews with teachers

An interview is a directed conversation (Gillham, 2000; Ritchie and Lewis, 2003), the success of which is dependent on the ability of the interviewer to create clearly structured questions (Cohen et al., 2017), build rapport with participants (Opie, 2004), and to listen, probe and prompt (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003). The personal interaction of an interview is also appropriate when depth of meaning is sought, for example in gaining insight and understanding from a participant’s personal experience (Gillham, 2000; Ritchie and Lewis, 2003). All five participants were interviewed in person, and in order to provide data in a form which could be analysed the interviews were audio recorded, and transcriptions of these audio recordings were created.

The semi-structured interview was designed around a set of key questions which were grouped thematically. However, although the groupings were adhered to, the questions themselves were used in a more spontaneous manner in relation to the participants’ natural flow of discussion. Throughout the interview process, I was conscious of the need to refrain from using leading questions or allowing my preconceived ideas to influence the discussion (Kvale, 2007). When using a structured strategy for interviews, a degree of comparison can be made utilising the grouping and structure to provide comparable data. This is a decision I had to weigh against the desire for an interview where the discussion could carry on freely without interruption, pause or inhibition. It is also important to acknowledge that there are other possible weaknesses to this method: for example, the age, gender, professional profile and relation to the interviewer can affect how much people are willing to disclose, or their honesty in what they divulge. Denscombe (2007, p. 184) labels this as ‘the interviewer effect’ and for this reason, it was important to state the purpose of the interview and topics to be discussed at the start of the interview to set expectations of roles.

ii. Observations of teaching

Observation is a standard research method for anthropological and sociological studies and involved observing classes and recording detailed field notes (DeWalt and DeWalt, 2002). Observations allowed me to note non-verbal cues such as an expression of feelings and interaction with others and to assess items in interviews and observations from my own perspective, which may be different from that of the participants themselves (Marshall and Rossman, 2006).

The observations were guided by the interviews, allowing me to make decisions on what should be observed. I observed teacher interactions with students in both live classes and asynchronously through the VLE. For each course on the programme where the participant was the main teacher, I observed one class on campus, one class synchronously on-line and one asynchronously. Where participants acted as a second tutor in classes with other participants in the study, this teacher was included in observations. In total, I carried out fifteen observation exercises, however, communication outside of regular teaching was not included (such as personal emails and interactions) as these were deemed to be private communication with students. Because this study is focused on the teacher, observing these more personal communications with individual students was deemed out of scope.

Observations were carried out throughout the academic year, making use of both recorded teaching materials and in-situ observations on campus allowing a familiarisation with the courses and programme generally as well as with the participating teaching staff. Initially, my presence in the classroom was unnatural and caused an uncomfortable few moments for some as they settled into their normal routine. However, the repetition of my presence allowed this interaction to become normalised reducing the possible incidence of ‘reactivity’ to the presence of being observed. My continuing presence over the course of the year allowed what De Munk and Sobo call (1998, p. 43) ‘backstage culture’ allowing for richly detailed interpretation and the access to ‘unscheduled events’. This was especially beneficial in seeing unexpected interaction between teacher and student at the end of class.

Throughout the observation period, I kept field notes capturing details I saw in the learning environment, the teacher’s body language, any repetitive habits, teacher behaviour, and instances where an unexpected or external factor disrupted the flow of teaching. In these I included my thoughts and responses to observations, any questions raised by actions which might require an answer to be sought, as well as basic chronological diary-like descriptions, observations of the teacher’s behaviour, manner, technology present and in use, and records of direct quotes. I also kept notes on whether any specific behaviour in the classroom had been expressed previously in interviews and noted if my interpretations of the teacher in the classroom was different to that expressed in an interview. These notes provided material for reflection and preparation as well as data which could be included in the coding exercise. 

iii. Data analysis

There are multiple analytical approaches to qualitative research, one of which is thematic analysis, used to recognise, evaluate and describe patterns within data (Braun and Clarke, 2006). For the purpose of data analysis, the interview audio recordings were transcribed to provide textual data, field notes were kept from all the observations carried out and the interviews and field notes pertaining to teachers were grouped and managed as individual, small, bound cases (Creswell, 2008), bound by individual courses related to the main participant teaching on that course. In order to assist in the analysis of the data gained from interview and observation, a thematic framework was used to highlight these patterns, identifying areas of importance or interest. The purpose of this was to combine systematic analysis of the text with analysis of its meaning in context (Vaismoradi et al., 2013), rather than to ‘count frequency’ in occurrences of words or phrases as this could have resulted in missing the context (Morgan, 1993). For example, frequency may signify great importance, however it may also represent simply a willingness to talk about a topic at length. The resulting themes which emerged then informed the review of research literature to expand on these themes. To carry out this approach, Braun & Clarke’s six-step framework (2006) was enacted to afford robust organisation for data analysis and for the ability to identify explicit (semantic) themes from specific things the participants said, and to identify underlying (latent) themes such as ideas, assumptions and conceptualisations.

3.3.2 Six steps of analysis

The initial categorisation was inductive in nature, meaning that it wasn’t reliant on an existing theory, rather its purpose was to promote exploration and discovery (Morse and Niehaus, 2009). 

  1. Familiarisation with the data

The first step in the analysis was to read and re-read the transcripts and field notes in their entirety in order to build familiarity. After a couple of read throughs, I began highlighting initial impressions, possible codes and any small details that may be worth investigating further. 

The example below from my field notes shows the basic nature of this step – I had made a note of a behaviour which I thought may be relevant at a later time.

Impact of technology or prompt for persona?

Microphone. 3rd time chosen the handheld over the lapel even when there were issues and it caused a delay. – comforter/prop ? 

At this stage it was a note to act as a prompt later should this or similar actions be observed again, or should it relate to the content in an interview. Equally, it may not have shown in any of the themes to emerge.

  1. Create initial codes

Once I felt I had a better understanding of the circumstances of the interview transcripts and field notes, I began a more thorough read-through, line by line to highlight anything I felt was important or interesting. At this stage I didn’t have any pre-set codes, instead the codes developed and modified throughout the exercise. In order to assist in the management of the data, I used software designed specifically for this kind of analytical work. You can see here the initial stage of coding where each selected piece of text (excerpt) has codes assigned. The different colours show which codes are top level codes and which have been merged into categories which contain similar codes.

Figure 1: Initial pass at coding anonymised interview transcripts

  1. Search for themes

As stated earlier, a theme is a pattern that shows something significant or interesting about the data; however, there are no set rules about what makes a theme (Braun and Clarke, 2006), it is simply about its significance to my data and my research questions. I found several codes which fitted together to relate to the teachers’ use of technology, I collated these and labelled this set as “technology” these are shown in Fig 2. below. However, on their own, this set of codes didn’t necessarily provide a pattern or significance which related to the research question.

 Figure 2: Codes grouped into set called technology

In contrast, some of these technology codes also appeared in other categories which did feed into themes which proved useful. For example, lecture recording, video, YouTube, microphones, on-line, maybe obviously technology related, but they also appeared in a category alongside other codes labelled Influences. In relation to the research question, this theme proved to be pertinent in stage five – identifying items which teachers perceived to be influencing their personal identities which crossed areas of pedagogy, technology, culture and teaching. 

  1. Review of codes

Once I combined my codes into themes where appropriate, I asked myself some simple questions to help clarify my thoughts. Do the themes I have found make sense and does the data actually support these? I also considered if there was any overlap between themes and if there were, should those be subthemes or stay separate? 

  1. Define themes

Having reviewed my analysis so far, I began to refine the themes further to create my final set. This allowed me to identify what that theme was truly about and to determine if any other themes were related. 

For example, with more analysis I was able to relate the use of video as a technology with identity as an on-line teacher through the use of YouTube and television and then identify how it had made the teacher address issues of engagement. 

  1. Literature review and writing up

There were multiple compelling themes that came from the data, but the limitations and time factors meant that this report could not possibly contain all of them. Therefore, the final stage of this process was to conclude the analysis by selecting the themes which were most relevant and to enable me to find and review existing research and other literature. This helped to broaden my understanding of the findings of my study, accepting those which would not be used at this stage, but which may be relevant to future research. 

After analysis, nine themes emerged.

  • Practitioner identity is one facet of many
  • Identity was fluid forming and reforming
  • On-line teaching identity varied, along with participants’ career journey
  • Presence was about acknowledging the student

Relationships and connecting

Reacting to students

  • Make technology work for you
  • Technology is changing student behaviours
  • Students change even if traditions don’t
  • Class size impacts teaching
  • Workload is increasing
  • Studio itself has changed in the industry

3.4 Researcher context

I conducted this data collection and analysis as an interviewer, observer and interpretivist. Researching from a constructivist perspective, I must acknowledge the influence my presence may have had on participants during both interviews and observations and of course the influence my professional role as a learning technologist. The context and relationships involved can also play a part in the success of this form of data collection, such as the ability to build rapport. However any potentially biased assumptions about on-line learning and or teaching on this programme have been deliberately tested through the use of grouping and structure to the questions and responses to provide comparable data and throughout data collection I was aware of the need to refrain from allowing leading questions or for my preconceived ideas to influence the discussion (Kvale, 2007).

3.5 Limitations

I recognise there are limitations with this study due to the small size of the participant group and the impact this may have had on the data gathered and conclusions reached. As I have only focused on one programme within one higher education institution, more research in this area would be needed in order to understand how useful the findings may be across settings and other parts of the sector. 

3.6 Ethics

In carrying out this study, I have observed the guidelines set out by BERA (2011) and the legal expectations set out by the General Data Protection Regulations (frequently referred to as GDPR) (2018). 

3.7 Summary

This study focused on the teacher teaching design in a hybrid classroom environment in order to highlight potentially interesting themes arising from their experiences. The next section will discuss the findings within these themes in relation to existing research.

4. Findings and discussion

4.1 Introduction

The literature discussed in chapter 2 talked about the unique, separate and at times troublesome identity of the teacher, and its impact on how that teacher connected with and portrayed themselves to their students. The strength of this identity of tradition was discussed as a barrier to the acceptance of new methods and technologies which are being introduced to meet the demands of the current educational landscape.

The data from the interviews and observations gives a varied and complex picture of the design studio teacher which, when analysed along with existing research, provides rich context with which to discuss design studio teaching. The findings presented here focus on responding to the three research questions and are structured according to these questions.

4.2 To what extent do design teachers have a distinct teacher-practitioner identity? 

4.2.1 A practitioner who teaches

Existing research has demonstrated that teacher identity is an ongoing journey created from a combination of subjectivities, including experiences and interactions. For the design practitioner, many of these experiences and interactions are from the community of practice each design teacher belongs to. Existing research also found that in some cases the strength of identity from the design practice communities led to a struggle to align practitioner identities with current teaching practice (Adams, 2007; Anderson, 1981; Lim, 2006; Shreeve, 2011). 

Acknowledgement of a practitioner identity was echoed by the majority of the participants when discussing their teaching in relation to their practice with specific references to practice being stated. 

…before I taught, I practised. […] I’ve been teaching since my 30s (T1)

Before coming to teaching I had spent the last 10 years building websites at a very high level (T5)

I had a similar background to T5, I actually worked on some of the projects T5 had originally worked on. (T4)

Participants acknowledged their community of practice early in the interviews, with definite descriptions of themselves in relation to their practitioner connection. For T5, it was important to elaborate on this and they specifically discussed pedagogic practice within the design discipline.

Our teaching practices, kind of pedagogical practices are discipline specific. (T5)

I think there’s a difference between trying to teach people history compared even to the onset of digital humanities, compared to teaching a design practice. (T5) 

T5’s decision to categorise their pedagogic practice as ‘discipline-specific’ shows an awareness of a distinct community of practice. T5 clearly feels that their background as a design practitioner is important and plays a role in who they are as a teacher. As expressed by Akkerman and Meijer (2011), Beijaard et al. (2004), and Watson (2006), this demonstrates a high level of understanding of themselves as a teacher and also of their place in their discipline. It also shows that T5 is aware of the various contexts which have influenced their identity, this includes what existing research discussed as sub-identities. In T5’s case, they clearly express their designer self as the sub-identity of their current teacher identity, this supports the findings of both Beijaard et al. (2000) and Day et al. (2006), who saw subject matter expert professional personas as sub-identities which influence the teacher whole.

More interestingly, T5’s decision to state the differences between their teaching practice and that of teachers from other subjects shows that T5 has actively evaluated similarities and differences between themselves and other teachers’ roles. Watson (2006) highlighted this evaluation as essential for teachers to build personal identities. Here T5 is not choosing one or the other role as where they belong, instead incorporating both as part of a greater whole, demonstrating the personal nature of identity construction. The extent to which an individual can acknowledge and evaluate these varying influences may also affect how successfully sub-identities are harmonised into their teaching identity. 

T5’s ability to discuss how their practitioner background fits into their current teaching role and their seeming comfort with this, demonstrates that their sub-identity has been harmonised into their teacher identity rather than contradicting it or causing conflict as highlighted by Shreeve (2011). This was not the case with all participants with varying levels of acceptance seen, which we will discuss further in the next section.

4.2.2 The dynamics of identity

As well as the examples of various identity influences shown, the sense of changing or evolving identity expressed by Akkerman and Meijer (2011), Beijaard et al. (2004), and Watson (2006) was visible in interviews. T3 and T4 both demonstrated an acknowledgement of their current teacher-selves as well as a demonstration of a perceived chronology of where their identities may sit, their choice of language offered an interesting insight into how identities are formed. In discussing the design of a new course, T3 stated,

I’ve brought in much more from the [area of professional practice] point of view because that was my background before… (T3)

And in the same way, T4 spoke specifically about their background as a digital artist and how it influenced their teaching.

I was a designer; I know how important these skills are. (T4)

T4 and T3 both used past tense language even though they were discussing a current design activity to do with their teaching practice. They could have simply expressed that their practitioner knowledge allows them to refine the course to ensure essential skills are taught, but instead chose the words, “my background” and “before”. This insertion of chronological identities, of a life before teaching, acknowledges a change from before to now. This acknowledgement of a difference between the two identities seems to support Shreeve’s findings that not all teacher-practitioners manage to harmonise their sub-identities and that there is sometimes a struggle as practitioners find themselves (2011). However, in acknowledging this, it’s also important to be able to define if the choice of language used was conscious or unconscious. A conscious choice to discuss a sub-identity in the past tense could indicate a struggle to harmonise or align two identities into one, as Shreeve proposes; whereas an unconscious use of this language may not necessarily signify a struggle, but rather may show the movement or dynamics of identity creation is at a point where these teachers are recreating their identity (Adams, 2007; Anderson, 1981; Beijaard et al., 2004; Watson, 2006). 

We saw previously that T5 appeared to be comfortable with their identity and the various elements which created it and we now see that there is a possibility that T4 and T3 are not finding this as easy. However, placing this in context, we are not looking at teachers with identical backgrounds, practitioner or otherwise as both T4 and T3 are more recent recruits to teaching, whereas T5 is at a later stage in their teaching career. It can, therefore, be assumed that T3 and T4 are at different stages on their journey in teacher identity creation than more established team members and therefore have had fewer interactions and experiences in their roles to allow confidence in identity to develop. The personal nature of this journey means that all teachers are continually processing influence, and identities are being built and rebuilt throughout their teaching careers. 

Also relevant to this, the changes to teaching practice and the effects of these were acknowledged by participants in relation to teaching both face-to-face and on-line.

4.2.3 Becoming a technology-led teacher

The use of technology was observed prominently throughout the courses on this programme to support the teaching of on-line students, live-streamed video of classes allowed on-line students to participate synchronously by typing questions to the teacher or replying to discussion requests in real-time. 

In discussing these on-line interactions in class, T2 raised the issue of the impact when technology didn’t integrate well, referring to a section of the class when the teaching staff attempted to connect on-line students live with on-campus students in the classroom and the microphones in the room caused feedback which the teaching staff were unable to control. 

It’s never really worked out terribly well. I’m not sure how to make it work with the on-line classroom. (T2)

T2 elaborate further around incidents like this in class and the perceived lack of support to prevent these situations. 

We have all this support to help us learn the tech and that’s fine but what we’re missing is support to actually use it for teaching. (T2)

T2’s was not afraid to use technology or indeed that they do not know how, in fact, they acknowledged that there was general technology support. Instead T2’s worry was lack of knowledge of how to integrate the technology into teaching. As a senior member of the teaching team with over thirty years’ experience, it may be expected that T2 would be both able and confident when challenging themselves in a new teaching role. However, findings by Bonk and Dennen (2003), Redmond (2011) and Sheridan and T2 (2016) show that the perception of a lack of training specific to teaching on-line has adverse effects on the teachers’ perceptions of themselves in an on-line situation. 

The potential impact of the changes to teaching required to support on-line students were seen in multiple classes. On most occasions, where a high degree of technology interaction was required, T3 acted as a class tutor working with both students in the classroom and on-line using the lecture recording software. In most classes, the main lecturer primarily worked in the physical classroom but occasionally broke off to talk to on-line students directly. However, when observing classes taught by T1, I noted that T1 only interacted with campus-based students unless prompted by T3 at which point the interruption to the flow visibly unsettled T1 momentarily.

When asked about how this, T1 explained.

I sort of felt it wasn’t my brief, it was always an extra thing and we’d recruited extra staff to do the on-line, so I wasn’t particularly going to … you know, didn’t feel it was my job necessarily […] (T1)

In terms of technology engagement, T1 does build in a lot of technology to their teaching and in many ways is a pioneer of this hybrid programme, however, interacting with on-line students during class has brought an extra element of workload and an infringement into their established classroom practice. They summarised their take on the hybrid teaching in the programme as a type of cabaret or late-night TV show. Recognising both the medium through which their on-line students engaged with the teachers and the perception of the face-to-face classroom to the on-line students and the creation of telepresence. 

It’s a bit like again on television when a late-night TV host goes around the audience. (T1) 

Although T1 expressed previously that they felt it was another tutor’s role to interact directly with on-line students during class, the design of their course and the set-up of the classroom has very much been created with the knowledge that there are on-line students watching. T1 conceptualises their on-line students as being like a tv viewer watching late-night TV, and their own role as that of the talk show host. However, interestingly, their description of how this works may shed insight into their momentary “forgetfulness” of the presence of on-line students.

I mean it’s good entertainment, picking on the audience for questions. Makes good viewing for the stooges watching at home. (T1)

It would appear that T1 has given particular roles to the asynchronous on-line students based on how they are participating in the class – viewing this as a one-way televisual transaction. This is discussed further in section 4.4.3.

It would seem that individual teachers may feel an identification with professional cultures and practices as one aspect of their identity, for some this may be a strong connection and for others less so. The challenges of on-line teaching provoke consideration of, and challenge to, this identity for some teachers, showing that identity formation is fluid and ongoing as teachers are exposed to varied influences as they develop their teaching practice and indeed their teaching-selves. For others, they look to inspiration outside of teaching to help them align their face-to-face identity with on-line. It is, therefore, valid to assume that these influences not only affect the participants’ perception of themselves as a teacher but will also influence how the participant presents themselves to the students.

4.3 How do design studio teachers create a sense of presence for students in face-to-face and on-line contexts?

4.3.1 Connecting with students

The teacher’s presence or the students’ perception of the teacher, is the transaction between teacher and student which helps to eliminate barriers and build a feeling of connection (Rodgers and Raider‐Roth, 2006; Scott, 2016). The participants spoke of this very much as the building of relationships between teacher and student.

I’m happy for students to approach me, I relish the chance to chat about their work. (T5)

I try to always find a reason to take my time and hang around just a wee bit after class. Someone always wants to chat a bit. Set their mind at ease. I think it’s good to let them think it’s all coincidence. (T3)

Both these statements show that the casual chat between student and teacher can be as important in terms of relationship-building for the teacher as much as for the student. T5’s choice of the word “relish” shows the degree to which they enjoy this aspect of teaching and T3’s acknowledgement that the casual chat was not quite casual but that they felt it was beneficial for the students to see it that way shows an acknowledgement of how T3 feels their relationship should sit. 

Interestingly, this ability to grab a casual chat with the instructor at the end of class or in the corridor, are often seen to be shortcomings of on-line and is the type of interaction recommended in the framework presented by (Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W., 2000) to assist in creating teaching presence on-line. 

That this water cooler style chat was important is evident in the ways that this programme has created connections with their on-line students. T4 was almost shocked when I ask them to describe how they build relationships specifically with on-line students.

We talk, it’s very casual. They know they can come to me, I listen, I make myself available. It’s just chat. Like with any class. (T4)

T4 was specifically discussing the manner in which they use the on-line communication tool, Collaborate, to be present to the students very much in the manner of a traditional teacher. Their need to emphasise that the discussion is “just chat” or “very casual” is in direct contrast to the findings of Kvan (2001a) who found that on-line communication reduced the ability to encourage casual or informal interactions. Kvan’s argument was that teacher had to plan carefully to incorporate on-line interaction and therefore casual chats were not possible. 

T4 describes this transaction with students very much like the grabbed opportunity of a student speaking to the teacher at the end of the lecture which T3 mentioned. However, as we can see, on both occasions there is an element of planned interaction at play. For on-line communication, teachers using this medium do need to be available on-line for the students to interact with synchronously, therefore some element of planning must take place. And in T3’s end of class chats, they have chosen to hang around expecting the students to approach. Therefore, Kvan may be right to an extent that casual is not possible on-line, but I would argue that T3 is also showing that what may seem casual in the classroom is also a deliberate design of teaching presence. Going further, in discussing communication with the students, T3 emphasised the need to be receptive. T3 teaches in a large lecture theatre situation where it would be easier to talk to the class as a whole but felt it was important to acknowledge that it is the smaller, personal transactions that create connections between teacher and student.

When I give them feedback, in front of their classmates, I try to reassure them, I’m constantly looking for them, asking where they are in the room. Sometimes they are too far away so it’s a general feeling of I’m looking at you when I speak. It’s about my actions and reactions to them. A reassurance. (T3)

They then went on to clarify, 

…of course, the same goes for the on-line guys too. So, it’s the same, I turn to the camera and talk directly to that, as the person. (T3)

The everyday occurrence of a teacher in a physical classroom means that the question of how students feel the presence of the teacher can seem slightly redundant – after all, they are right there. But this was a really interesting take from T3 about doing more than just being physically present, instead recognising not that the teacher is there, but that the student is, by seeking out the opportunity to make contact. In the examples from T4 and T3, we see them purposely designing elements into their teaching to allow for student/teacher interaction which is not the timetabled “contact hours” of a tutorial. Alluding to the teaching presence framework of Garrison et al. (Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W., 2000), this shows that there may in fact be an element of designing teaching presence into classes, consciously or not. Also and more interestingly, that Richardson et al. (2015) may be correct in stating there are differences in the behaviours of the teacher who designs the teaching and the instructor who teachers the course designed by another – although this would require more research to confirm.

T5 also felt it important to acknowledge the students, discussing the anxiety a student can feel around the sharing of feedback in the classroom. T5 felt that as a teacher, it was important for the students to be aware that the teacher understood the student’s hesitation and anxiety when feedback was delivered in the open studio, but that students could trust their motives, that they cared about them. T5 chose to set the scene with students, and to set expectations of their behaviour.

I tell them out front, the thing is, is about actually, if I’m critical of your work it is because I really care about you and there is something you and your classmates can really learn from it. (T5)

Whilst T4 spoke of the creation of the bond by presenting a relaxed, calm environment, T3 and T5 have acknowledged the need to address anxiety and vulnerability that the student may feel in order to create trust and build a relationship based on caring and understanding, much as Noddings (2003) described their relationship with students. They have recognised the need for relationship building but also the work required to create a relationship rather than to assume one will exist purely because of physical presence. In all three instances, the participants spoke of teaching behaviours which are not environment-specific, but rather are human actions and reactions. This is a key teaching element of this program, where video is used as a primary teaching tool for both on-line and on-campus students. For the participants of this study, the use of video is frequent, with elements of teaching delivered by or enhanced by video in every class, meaning the environment can be in person, on-line or frequently, both. 

Physical gestures were highlighted by Wang et al. (2019) as being important to create personal bonds between teacher and student in video and this was demonstrably present in all classes observed. Participants demonstrated how these natural teaching gestures were consciously incorporated into on campus classes which are live-streamed and recorded. They began with the greeting at the start of each class on campus, and to ensure that the greeting was for all students, the teacher leading the session made a point of turning directly to the camera recording or broadcasting the class and acknowledging the students watching on-line with the words, “and for those of you watching from home”. 

However a more powerful example of how the video medium has been embraced to connect with and include on-line students into the on-campus class was shown by T5, during a workshop where they were giving general guidance to the class around a project brief, in particular around the pitfalls to watch out for. As they began to talk about what not to do while walking amongst the physical students in the classroom, T5 walked to the tripod holding the camera at the side of the teaching desk and got their face up close to the lens and emphasised with their full face, voice and hands saying, “do not do this.” This example of creating presence using physicality, gestures and facial expression which was identified as essential by Wang et al. (2019) in research examining student perceptions of teacher presence in video. It is something which can be unconscious in traditional brick and mortar classrooms but not often considered for an on-line environment where it can be common to see the teacher from a distance, usually via a camera at the back of the room. 

T4 raised this moment when discussing what can and can’t be achieved in terms of connecting with online students and the difficulty of the fixed long-distance camera.

That was ground-breaking. Apart from the reaction in the room, online, they talked about it for weeks. We couldn’t do that with the old camera. It made us see how important we were to the students, not just a small silhouette but us and our personalities. (T4)

This acknowledgement of the on-line student being part of the existing classroom appeared frequently throughout observations with examples of teachers modelling their expected behaviours of inclusion and community between on-campus and on-line students with simple gestures, eye contact and verbal acknowledgement. This showed a deliberate effort on the part of the teachers, to use common visual and physical methods of interacting with students and transpose them into on-line environments. It may, over time, become natural and unconscious, but when assessed, has very much been deliberately designed into the classroom to create a transaction which eliminates barriers and creates connections with the student.

4.3.2 Reacting to student needs

T5 coined a phrase now used throughout the programme of “viewtorial” to describe short video tutorial material which teachers were creating in response to student needs. 

I say, right, I’m going to make you a little 20-minute video where I say these are some of the things that have come up from our clinics, so I asked people to send me their work. And now I’m going to talk about it. (T5)

For the participants, this ability to react to students’ work and share feedback to build the studio community was an essential part of how they felt students would perceive them as coach in the studio. But it is not only the reaction in terms of feedback and crit but also in seeing how students are interacting with the course materials and being able to change and redesign teaching “live” that is important. T4 saw this reaction to student behaviours as part of the contact with them, part of being present to the student.

It seems our students prefer to read less and listen and watch more. Naturally, they’re digital media students. So, I figured that’s okay, you aren’t reading three pages of text, I’ll make a video and the text is also there, and that’s it. And again, it’s the contact with me they feel that I’ve seen them. It’s very important, yes, that is important. (T4) 

Although we are seeing the participants use video tools to create this material, it is the reaction to student needs which is key, demonstrating that the teacher is aware of the student and reacting to that awareness. 

4.3.3 Teacher in the studio

As already discussed, teaching on this programme takes place on campus, with live streams of classes available as well as recordings. All teaching materials, including lecture recordings are accessed through a central VLE, available to both on-line and on-campus students. This hybrid, on-line/on-campus design of the programme makes it unusual in higher education.

In line with literature on the studio pedagogy, the participants discussed the continuous feedback cycle or desk crit where student work to a project brief and receive feedback on their progress at various stages (Belluigi, 2016; Webster, 2004). In this programme, on-campus crit sessions are referred to as clinics, where students can come specifically to discuss work on projects. However, participants discussed unexpected outcomes to the way clinics had been arranged.

They don’t come to the clinic, they work on it at home so I don’t get to talk to them, check on them and so often if they’d come to me earlier it would have made a difference. (T3)

… and so we have these clinics we run for two hours every Thursday morning, and nobody turns up for them most of the time. (T2)

The intention of the programme team to use these clinics as a way for students to chat to staff about their work was clear. However, due to the physical space available, the programme is operating without a dedicated studio space of their own so what were once informal discussions in the open studio are now more formal, diarised clinic sessions. In practice this has not proven popular with students, and similarly to Crowther’s (2013) discovery, teaching staff have found that to succeed, this method requires the students to show a higher level of autonomy or self-motivation, and they have found there are some choosing to forgo this option altogether. However, Crowther’s study was on the possibility of virtual studio courses and his findings were in relation to distance and asynchronicity affecting student behaviour. In the case of this programme, the same findings are seen for on-campus students who are responding similarly to being given a choice. 

T3 discussed the difference between the clinics run by this programme and their personal experience of studio as as student and their perception that technological changes may in part be responsible for the low level of participation by students.

The problem now is that they don’t need to be here for the equipment, they’ve all got a gaming laptop at home now, so they stay home and work on their own. When I was a student we were always here. (T3)

Discussing the open reflective feedback in the studio (now a diarised clinic) and how important that interaction is for the relationship between the teacher and the student, both T3 and T2 described how the changing dynamics of the physical classroom have affected this and now students are choosing instead to stay home and work rather than come into the studio and work collaboratively. In contrast however, T4 has found that on-line students are still very active in collaborative discussion and sharing.

And especially now with the live chats on Collaborate, the other day when my students were having their discussion on campus here, I was also chatting with the on-line students during that time because I didn’t have to be involved for 15 minutes. (T4)

Unpicking this, T4 is referring to live / in studio sessions, not the separate clinic style sessions which T3 and T2 discussed, therefore the fact that the students are there and the teacher is leading the discussion could be why the students are engaging. 

However, T4 noted a crossover which had occurred organically between the student groups where on-campus students chose to use the asynchronous blogs and forums and on-line students chose to join synchronous class discussion and group work. This does show that there are elements of the student body still wishing to take advantage of the feedback opportunities.

I think it’s natural, and it’s better that it’s not forced by us. The students have decided to widen the group, they get more feedback. I encourage that. I don’t see why the need to be different if they are happy. (T4)

T2 has also found a cross over between cohorts with on-line students requesting to take part in group work with campus-based students. 

They do develop their own ways of working together. Some of them are more successful than others, and sometimes they run into problems as well. Usually they seem to come up with something that works. (T2)

Although the crossover of on-line and on-campus students in this particular way is not required behaviour in the programme, it is encouraging to contrast the enthusiasm of the group of students who are seeking out a more collaborative experience with those who have decided to work alone and consider how this could be harnessed. 

4.4 What impact is technology having on studio, and what other factors are influencing its current form?

So far, I have concentrated on the factors which have influenced the participants creation of teacher-self and teaching-self. In this final section of the findings, I will analyse factors which the participants felt influenced their teaching of studio and what studio means to them. 

4.4.1 Changing workload

The most common element to come through from the data was impact of change, including the continuing changes around the educational landscape and primarily those relating to the increasing class size for each course.

Well obviously, the class size works against us. We can’t carry out the activities or contact time or even support we did. (T5)

It was a smaller group, about 30-35 people at that point, which meant that it was easier creating that studio environment; when you’ve got 60, 70, 90, that’s very difficult. It feels a lot more hands off than it used to. (T3)

Studio ideally is about individual, feedback driven student teacher thing, but that’s only viable when teacher student ratios supports it. Unfortunately, we’re victims of our own success. (T2)

From the accounts of the participants, class-sizes have grown from what they considered a manageable studio class to a size where they feel an impact on their ability to carry out the traditional studio regime. T3 describes teaching as feeling “hands off” and T5 mentioned not being able to offer the same level of contact time with the students. Concerns from teaching staff regarding class size are not unique to this group or even to teaching in a studio environment. Increasing class sizes were found by Gray (2007), Richardson et al. (2012), and Swann (2002) to have caused widespread concern amongst teachers about their ability to carry out their teaching role sufficiently. Seeking solutions to this, studies such as by Bender and Vredevoogd (2006) discuss the implementation of digital technologies as a method to streamline workload, suggesting the use of on-line technologies to provide feedback can reduce the burden. However, our participants, are already implementing technology in the studio and are still feeling the burden of the student/teacher ratio changing and with it their ability to carry out traditional studio activities such as coaching. 

General workload was a concern for the participants, not only in relation to class size. For T3, the allocation of work, due to their role within the team was a concern. because they are teaching all the time, they feel they have no time to reflect on their teaching and make changes. 

But then that also presupposes that I’ve time to read up, investigate and I can create material to feed into it, and that is actually part of the problem about being a teaching fellow. I am not allocated any time at all to actually design teaching. (T3)

I feel like I’m letting them down, I’m always behind with feedback and replies to emails. (T1)

For T3, the feeling of not being on top of things was affecting their perception of themselves and their teaching, feeling they were letting the students down. T1 raised not giving feedback in a timely manner, and as we saw from the earlier examples of teaching presence, reacting to students was one of the key things identified by this group as helping to create relationships between teachers and students. For a group who define themselves by these relationships, it is understandable that this would be a concern. 

The remorse of not having the time expected to coach students was raised also by T4, another of the teaching fellows on the team. 

It can be difficult; I’m trying to help but I have so much to do. It’s like, we’ve gone over this twice already, can you just please try. (T4) 

The remorse T4 shows at feeling like they don’t have the time necessary to provide the type of support an individual student needs echoes the student feedback from Swann (2002), who found that students felt the impact of teacher workloads, when they reported feeling that their teachers were annoyed or showed frustration at students who did not action feedback quickly.

However, it wasn’t only more junior staff who raised these concerns. T5 raised rising workload as an issue affecting all staff, and one they felt students needed to be made aware of.

We’re all worked to the limit, whether, whatever you’re doing, whether you’re in professional services, an academic. It’s the thing that I don’t like saying to the students. It’s not okay. It’s not okay, that that’s how it is, that’s the reality of this context. I don’t like it but they need to know. (T5)

T5 found the idea that student expectations needed to be set in regard to the workload of staff disappointing. They repeated that this was “not ok”, however unlike T4, T3 and T1, T5 was more pragmatic. Although expressing a dislike for the situation, T5 is realistic that the situation exists, and it does affect the student experience and therefore it is better to make the students aware of this. T5’s decision to manage the expectations of the students falls into the same category of behaviour observed previously when I discussed the trust and reliability that the programme team felt was a vital element of their role as teachers. In this instance that trust, and reliability has extended to alerting the students to factors which will influence the experience students have regardless of expectations.

4.4.2 Changing students

Although participants were not explicit in the various elements of workload they felt were impacting on their teaching, the changing dynamics of the students was present in multiple themes throughout the data and this was raised as having expanded the role of the teacher in recent years. For T2 and T3, this was manifested in being able to offer additional support when required and both noted a need for them as teachers to take this into account and plan for it. 

Enrolment is different, we’ve got some students who are not at the level of the others, so it takes more time and planning to help them catch up. (T2)

You’ve got to be aware of differences amongst the student when we do group work. You sometimes need to move things around to make sure there is an even level of skill in each group. (T3)

T1 also raised this change, again noting a concern about teachers being able to provide the time and support they’d like to. However, where T2 and T3 gave the impression of a smaller group of students requiring this degree of help, T1 painted a picture of a queue. 

Sometimes it’s hard to spend as much time as some of the students really need to help them understand the way I should but there’s always another student in the queue waiting to clarify something else. (T1)

The changing student make up has had an impact on how these teachers go about their job, and indeed the impact of this was discussed by Swann (2004) when he referred to the feedback heavy teaching style of studio and desk crits as “sitting by Nellie”. He described how traditional studio was no longer sustainable given the changes to class sizes and student educational backgrounds, that teachers no longer had the time and resources to offer such an intense, one-to-one experience to every student. But although the difficulties of widening the potential academic backgrounds of students were discussed by participants, these experiences also brought positive reactions.

T1 felt the on-line students, managed better with academic requirements,

You know the age difference, we’ve basically got young people and mature students, there’s quite a difference. They self-select almost, so they naturally do better and that’s good for the younger students to be a part of. (T1)

T3 also saw the benefits on the diverse backgrounds within the classes, noting that the on-line students sometimes brought more recent industry experience than the teaching staff, offering valuable insights.

On-line students are great at offering advice to others, quite often they’re further advanced than us teaching the course because they come with recent industry experience. (T3)

Exploring the changing dynamics of the students coming into the classroom offered insights into how this could affect change on teaching behaviours and even the role participants saw themselves fulfilling as teachers, but it also highlighted that it may bring the benefits of recent industry experience. As a teaching mechanism to prepare students for industry, it is understandable why T3 saw this as a positive. 

4.4.3 Understanding of studio

The previous two sections covered the changing background of education affecting these teachers, with class sizes and abilities affecting the more traditional teaching roles participants saw themselves in. The third theme to emerge in regard to factors influencing this programme was the definition of studio.

The concept of studio being more than a physical space or a set of guidelines for teaching was prominent in the data with evidence of definitions based on participants’ own practice and willingness to experiment. 

I take a very broad definition of the idea of ‘studio’. (T5)

The literature around studio teaching discussed the purpose of this pedagogy, as being to teach habits of thinking, doing and being (Budge, 2016) and defines common practices in the studio which support this outcome (Belluigi, 2016). Initially it may seem that T5’s statement about a broad definition, implies that this team may in fact be colouring outside the lines rather than aligning with the definition Belluigi’s study drew of the atelier studio model (2016). However, Fleischmann (2015) found that changing expectations from a now more digital led design industry showed how traditional studio is carried out may in fact require experimentation. It could then be argued that T5 may actually be redefining what studio means to this programme in the context of their pre discussed sub-identity as a designer with experience of the current industry expectations. 

A response from T4 does well to elaborate on the experience of these studio teachers in response to defining studio teaching.

We talk about studio culture as being shared, communicative, connected and then we can’t understand how on-line students can join a crit. It just becomes, it just runs differently, not necessarily all in real time. (T4)

However what is not mentioned by T4 is the notion of the students’ need to choose to interact, this was the barrier to online studio posed by Crowther (2013) (discussed in section 4.3.3). For T4, it seems studio can be asynchronous but still requires the interaction between students, teachers and the group as a whole but the time and place can vary.

As discussed earlier, courses on this programme are taught in a variety of ways, but the majority of on campus classes (open to synchronous on-line students) take place in a dynamic classroom environment which allows a changing layout to meet the needs of that particular lesson. For the classes I observed, at first the classroom presented as a standard studio, however these teachers don’t refer to this class as studio, they refer to it as cabaret teaching, named after the set-up of the room with round tables seating groups of students and teacher with a microphone, acting as T1 prefers to call them self, as late night TV show host interacting with students in the room and acknowledging those on-line by gestures, remarks and eye contact with the camera. Hence the cabaret title. However, it is still recognisable as studio, it is the element of sharing and collaborating as well as involving the asynchronous on-line students which define how studio works for this team in this situation. 

‘Studio’ includes things like slack channels, Facebook groups. These things become our desks, our walls… ‘Studio’ also includes Skype & Collaborate, where […] anyone/everyone can be a presenter, rather than a one-sided dialogue. (T5)

Fleischmann (2015), called for a rethink in order to take into account the changing design industry, where transactions were on-line, face-to-face, world-wide, in local offices and where the role of master and apprentice were no longer dominant. T5’s definition of what studio is to them aligned very much with this. 

We use video to bring my studio to the students – this is real life, in the design industry now, we are all staring at our own screens with a messenger window open all the time so that we could think/make/share ‘remotely’ (e.g. in the room above us) but also in Greece, where we have an office, and in Brighton and Baku. (T5)

The definition of studio has proven to be transferable to the hybrid design of this programme with the interactive, sharing and social learning of studio being a part of both on-campus and on-line learning without the need for rigid borders and rules. 

5. Conclusion

The experiences of these teachers confirm the findings of previous studies that the design teacher does draw on their practitioner selves in order to build their identity as the teacher in the studio. However, far from being distinct, the practitioner identity is in fact a sub-identity, which over time is accepted and blended with other factors to become part of the teacher’s identity as a whole. However, as well as practitioner backgrounds, it was found that identity is created from the personal evaluation of multiple key experiences of the teacher, with their assessment of how these differ from or match other teachers forming the individual key elements of identity. In this study, the implementation of on-line teaching did not create the same challenges to identity or teaching practice as was seen in other studies, but the workload increase caused by bringing on-line students into the existing cohort did require participants to evaluate their teaching and adjust accordingly.

In the studio itself, the participants demonstrated the importance of both being seen to acknowledge the student and of reacting to the student as key elements in portraying their teaching-selves and forming the important relationships which allowed an environment of open feedback and critique to work. These behaviours reflected alternative studies which discussed the importance of the teacher/student bond in order to create teaching presence, but as with those studies, it was also difficult to do more than generalise how teaching presence could be defined and this study was not able to elaborate further on this topic.

The most interesting aspect to emerge from this study was in relation to the unexpected impact that both technology and cultural change have had. Primarily, the findings of this research have shown that although there are elements of studio teaching where technology has had an impact, not all challenges to studio teaching have come specifically from on-line technologies. The most common concern arising from previous research has been around the difficulties caused by on-line communication in the virtual studio, highlighting the technical difficulties of hosting crit sessions on-line causing unnecessary planning or course design tasks for the teacher. This study did find that teachers made plans to accommodate communications and interactions around online students, but that this was also the case within the on-campus classroom where participants demonstrated a need for pre-planning to provide opportunities for students to interact with the teacher outside of timetabled feedback.

This unsuitability of on-line environments for class crit sessions had previously been raised as if was felt that only the most self-motivated students would participate in discussion when the motivation of physical proximity was removed. This has proven thought-provoking as this study has demonstrated that these factors are also at play in current on-campus studio teaching. More importantly, lack of participation from on-campus students has shown that it is not necessarily technology, which is preventing students from attending the studio, rather it is simply requirement. With studio crit sessions being moved from standard classes to an additional timetabled slot, participants reported that students are choosing to simply work alone, this supports the previous research discussing the need for self-motivation amongst students, but moves the focus of this from on-line environment and rather highlights it as an issue in student culture and the impact of wider scale changes. However, it should be noted that in this programme, students are not required to use or have access to any specialist software or equipment and therefore there is no immediate need for a physical space in order to access these. If there was a need to access technology or software this would presumably result in a different outcome.

Lastly, these wider scale changes were found to have impacted negatively on both the teachers’ evaluation of themselves and their role and on teaching practice where class size increases and changing educational backgrounds of students have changed the makeup of student cohorts, this in turn has required a change to how teachers support and nurture students. Although this study concludes with the concept of studio itself and finds that although technology, class size and other factors may influence the physical location or teaching ratios, the concept of studio itself does not need to change in order to accommodate these, the practice of preparing students in the habits of thinking, doing and being a practitioner remain, but must do so in accordance with the digitally evolving world of practice itself.

5.1 Recommendations for practice 

The findings from this study have posed some interesting recommendations for practice which could be taken forward. Firstly, the need for more related  training and support for teachers specifically around the area of online studio teaching would be beneficial in helping studio teachers relate online practice to their discipline. This could involve training and workshops but should also involve the creation of a network where new or inexperienced teachers can receive support and guidance from those with more experience of online studio teaching. A community of practice, if you will.

It could also be beneficial to include professional services staff earlier in the design and planning for such programmes to allow them to understand the requirements for teaching these courses in regard to estates, technology, and resource requirements.

Lastly, the display of feelings of workload burden from participants should be acknowledged and may benefit from a review to establish staff resourcing requirements for a programme of this type. The programme of this study was resourced with the equivalent staffing for most on-campus programmes. However the needs of this programme showed that it was not possible to carry out this style of teaching with only one lecturer present in class, meaning teaching fellows were required to be present in every class for the programme to act as tutor for others or indeed to be lead lecturer in their own courses. There was also no acknowledgement of the requirements of asynchronicity on teaching staff, with all but one participant scheduled to teach standard office hours. The option of having staff available for interactions with students outwith these time slots may provide a better resourcing to work with online students.

5.2 possibilities for future research

This study explored the experience of participants who are currently teaching, meaning this required looking retrospectively at participants narratives in order to gain a better understanding of their previous experience and motivations for teaching. This study was also carried out on an existing and established programme which had previously integrated online teaching into design. Future research should conduct longitudinal study of teachers new to online teaching which would allow the creation of a more in depth understanding of both the experience of teachers in the journey to develop online studio teaching methods in order to build a wider understanding of the challenges and successes of such an experience. It would also be of interest to incorporate a wider range of studio pedagogy into this study in order to gain insight into studio teaching and online possibilities outwith the design concept, incorporating alternative types of studio teaching such as with more practical based disciplines.

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I'm Eli and I blog about the inane things which interest me namely gardening, cooking and cycling and occasionally geeky educational technology things. I live in sunny Musselburgh with my lovely wife Kate and our cats.