Architecting our education: Classes and connections

I say this feeling as if I am admitting some deep personal secret that I have kept hidden, something almost taboo that marks me as a sideshow attraction at which passersby throw jeers (and hopefully some money). So, at the risk of ostracism, here goes… I love physics.

Given that interest, it should cause little shock that Structures became one of my most enjoyable sequences of classes in the three years I have called myself a graduate student. I knew early on, though, that few of my classmates would say the same. I would sink my nose deeper into a borrowed textbook whenever I heard the pain and frustration rampant in discussions of free body diagrams and load-tracing. I heard prayers for passing grades, and the halls echoed with exultations once returned exam scores indicated people would never have to open their structures books again.

(Until they have to study for the ARE, that is.)

Early on, I challenged myself to understand the material better as I tried to explain the various concepts and procedures that eluded my less enthusiastic classmates. The entire time, I could tell that most of them hated the stuff and felt that they would never learn the material appropriately. I even sensed fear whenever one of them thought of having potentially to use the knowledge again in the future. My confidence would falter as well – textbook problems are one thing, but what could a wrong answer in the field mean for, say, a small residential redesign?

When my classmates and I first set foot out on our graduate treks, we learned that studios were all-important. Rather than sleeping or showering, we should be soldiering through our design tasks. Several years down the line, though, we learned that our studios meant little to the outside world. Not only were our projects abstract and removed from daily life, but they held little relevance to methods of work in the real world. Worse, we increasingly heard that not even future employers wanted to see the results of our six credits per semester.

Classes, and their respective information, often exist as separate and disconnected little realms

These same studios, according to NAAB accreditation I believe, were to focus each on specific things, from site and environment to program and systems. Few of us realized that; our studios only rarely had any similarity between instructors, despite being the same course level. We toiled away, unaware of our studios’ ultimate aims, all the while struggling in our core classes – primarily structures and control systems – learning enough only to pass each class and promptly forget the knowledge afterward.

What if our studios instead integrated with our other coursework? Rather than offer abstract and relatively empty exercises, they could reinforce what we learn in our core classes, strengthening our knowledge of structures, mechanical systems, programming, human factors, environmentally responsive design, and even anything studied in electives. We would learn more hands-on, by actively doing – exploring and creating – rather than passively seeing and reciting.

Integrating classes with studio work can reinforce the learned material and lead to stronger retention

The better we can integrate our learning, the stronger we will learn. The stronger we learn, the greater the base of knowledge we have for critical thought and problem solving. The broader the foundations of thought, the more masterful, reflective, and intuitive designers we can ultimately become. And perhaps more who will find a greater fondness for structures and physics.

I would love not to be such an outcast.

One thought on “Architecting our education: Classes and connections

  1. Pingback: Architecting our education: Skills and scalpels « AIA Colorado EP Blog

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