Fostering purposeful writing processes in the design studio


Authors: Nancy Snow and Saskia van Kampen
Purposeful writing activities that are integrated into making processes of studio curriculum not only bolster student learning but also contribute to more robust project outcomes. A pilot study conducted in first-year-design studios at OCAD University supported the generation of various techniques to specifically and clearly: augment the learning outcomes of projects, foster discipline-specific language learning, and build information gathering skills. Furthermore, as professor of school library studies Jean Donham notes, students entering first year undergraduate institutes “have difficulty analyzing and synthesizing information to construct meaning” (Donham 2014: 5). Thus developing targeted writing exercises can help students gain skills they need to articulate their intent and critically engage with their work as well as the work of their peers. Philosopher and professor of urban planning Donald Schön states that reflection—both in and on practice—is an essential part of process and metacognition (O’Connell and Dyment 2011: 50). This was observed during the pilot study as student writing also helped the faculty members to better understand how students perceived certain aspects of projects, revealed knowledge gaps within the student body along with the assumptions faculty had about the learners in their studio classrooms. Consequently, faculty could reflect on assignment structure, lectures and demonstrations to better support students with their individually nuanced needs.

This workshop aims to help faculty develop methods that can guide students in writing about their processes, their thinking, and their work. We will share examples of purposeful questions and in-class exercises that have helped our students articulate their working processes, reflect on their practice, discuss project outcomes, and improve upon their final product. We have also developed a handout which shares some insight on formulating writing exercises for studio courses. We will encourage conference attendees to engage in a discussion on how they are using writing to aid student learning, what techniques they are using to more purposefully integrate writing into design curriculum, and how they approach supporting english language learners with discipline-specific writing.    

Donham, J. (2014), ‘College Ready—What Can We Learn from First-Year College Assignments? An Examination of Assignments in Iowa Colleges and Universities’, School Library Research, 17, pp. 1–21.
O'Connell, T. S., & Dyment, J. E. (2011), ‘The Case of Reflective Journals: Is the Jury Still Out?’, Reflective Practice, 12: 1, pp. 47–59.