RIBA Research Matters: Collaboration is not a dirty word

RIBA Research Matters

I was invited to talk at RIBA’s Research Matters Conference on 15th November at RIBA headquarters in London. The conference aims to introduce and connect research across all the RIBA validated schools, and is a forum for a wider debate on the relevance of academic research to the architectural profession.

Delegates and presenters came from all over the country and EU covering a wide range of subject matter but mainly concentrating on an academic’s personal research. Whilst Co.Lab occupies a significant part of my academic work, it is not specifically a single piece of research. So, in order to set out a structure for my talk I had to reflect on what we have achieved so far, as well as try to disseminate knowledge accrued from the experience gained.

There are many facets to Co.Lab and many of these are still quite raw in terms of scope, rigour and speculations. Whilst this may sound obvious, one of the main areas where I have developed some form of analysis is understanding the student perception on their collaborative methods. At the beginning and end of each project, we ask students to complete a short survey to record their views on the project. We also ask them to draw diagrams to illustrate the working methods employed in design, both generally and specifically to their Co.Lab project.

From a sample of 64 students (15 postgraduate, 49 undergraduate) and across 11 projects over 3 years, the survey asked:

Question 1 – How much do students lead the design process of their own project? (between a scale of 1-10)
Chronological breakdown – Before live project 63%  avg.    //    After live project 80% avg.
Level breakdown – Undergradaute 71% avg.    //    Postgraduate 78% avg.

Question 2 – How much has the student cohort been in control of the design process? (between a scale of 1-10)
Chronological breakdown – Before live project 69% avg. agree    //    After live project 77% avg. agree
Level breakdown – Undergraduate 73% avg.    //    Postgraduate 76% avg

Question 3 – How much do students desire more control over their learning? (between a scale of 1-10)
Chronological breakdown – Before live project 62%  avg.    //     After live project 56% avg.
Level breakdown – Undergradaute 62% avg.    //     Postgraduate 40% avg.

The results affirming stereotypical views on the benefits of ‘live’ projects as well as indicate towards some interesting observations on student ownership. For example, postgraduate students tend to benefit more from the project in terms of developing a sense of ownership towards the project. Or… a significant proportion of undergraduate students still feel a desire to be in more control of the design process.

A better understanding of this perception of ‘student project ownership’ is revealed when you combine the above data with the comments included in the survey. They could be assigned into two broad categories:

  1. students desire more control over their briefs, timescale and decision making
  2. students want more interaction with a client (regardless of how much they already received)

Comments on client interaction is most pertinent as it indicated students feel that the decision making process feels more justified by a client as their criteria for making decisions is based on life choices (eg. budgets, timeframe) rather then a tutor’s personal judgement. Students also feel the client is the final decision maker in live projects. From my own experience, live projects are very much a tutor’s project as it is the client’s because of the collaborative relationship used to set up the project in the first place. I can only speculate that there is still a certain amount of mystery behind what goes on between a client and tutor when organising such live projects. Clarifying or making this part of the learning process may go some way to overcome this perception.

Admittedly, the presentation was more of a documentation of Co.Lab, rather than an overview of a critical piece of research. It was still well received however, but it has begun to frame all the knowledge generated from the initiative towards a concise piece of work. This is by no means a complete summary of the presented analysis and I will be posting more points of discussion over the coming weeks.

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