August the 10th. , 1998
COLLABORATIVE LEARNING AND ARCHITECTURE EDUCATION
Two major questions that education faces nowadays are how adequate it is
to use group dynamics in class to permit students achieve specific goals
and if the efficiency of this technique is acceptable for all the branches
of knowledge. Architecture, because of its most important qualities (professional
work in teams, practical skills and creativity) appears to be an area in
which it is likely that the teamwork technique can demonstrate its most
Thomas Kuhn (1996) described knowledge as “intrinsically the common
property of a group or else nothing at all”, explaining that the discoveries
of sciences or the products of arts to be recognized as it shall be shared
between the members of a certain community. What Bruffee (1995) called
the social construction of knowledge, has become the base to encourage
the use of group work techniques in different levels of education. However
there are still many critics to this method, basically referring to the
difficulties to manage the classroom and its adequacy to different areas
of study. The debate over teamwork in colleges and universities hasn’t
delivered a clear answer yet.
This research paper will first explain the virtues and weakness of
the “Collaborative Learning” method in order to establish finally its possible
application to Architecture Education.
THE STRENGTHS OF THE METHOD
Since the early 70’s, educators characterized the “traditional approach
to Education” (Ventimiglia, 1994) as being “professor centered”, considering
that the educative process depended exclusively on the knowledge capacities
of the teacher, who decided what kind and what amount of information should
be deposited into students minds. This was strongly criticized by Freire
(cited by Ventimiglia, 1994), for being passive and not stimulating critical
thinking. From then educators have researched new methods capable of improving
academic results and preparing students to transform their societies creatively.
This is how what Foyle (1995) called “Collaborative learning”, appeared
as a possible answer to educational dilemmas.
Collaborative learning, as well as cooperative and active learning
are terms used to describe new procedures in education, intended to help
students learn by working together (Bruffee, 1995). According to Ventimiglia
(1994) collaborative learning is the process in which a community formed
by students and teacher establishes common goals and participates as partners
in the building of knowledge, following specific steps and accepting precise
responsibilities. Group work is therefore one of the various tools involved
in the execution of the method, however they should not be considered as
Developing social skills
Based upon John Dewey’s (1963) definition of “associated life”, as all
those activities in which success is determined by humans capacity to interact,
it’s possible to imagine the importance of group work to promote social
skills between students. In fact dealing in a group dynamic, sharing an
operative language or making agreements over specific goals is not easy.
To be functional, the group must reach a necessary consensus, which in
a smaller scale represents what they will have to face in life (Bruffee,
1995). This is becoming more urgent as the increasing degree of specialization
in society obliges its members to cooperate more frequently.
In order to reach this goal theoreticians as Ventimiglia (1994) have
determined the need to pursue a “socialization” process between the class
group. For this, it is necessary that students know each other and build
mutual respect, which will turn to be the most important component in the
creation of the “learning community”. Lyman, cited by Foyle (1995) defines
the new “collaborative classroom” through three main characteristics,
trust, communication and the capacity to manage conflicts. At the same
time Lyman proposes two major techniques to achieve this goal, first the
“identification exercise” designed to break down the original barriers
between students who don’t know each other. In this case students make
a presentation of themselves to the group giving their names and ages and
also through certain specific characteristics (e.g. family size, hobbies,
a personal experience etc.) which should be special enough to impress their
class. After this exercise Lyman suggest a test in which students should
write a specific characteristic of each one of their fellows in order to
initiate the process to identify each other.
Stimulating individual capacities
One the most important advantages in this method is to stimulate between
students what Kenneth Bruffee (1995) characterized as “sharing our toys”.
The process of working in group forces its members to agree on certain
common goals and to accept the fact that they will obtain greater individual
benefits from doing it. This encourages students to show to their partners
their specific skills and abilities in order to permit to the group take
advantage of them to fulfill its tasks.
Ventimiglia (1994) describes the fact that in traditional learning
students ignore frequently their personal value since they feel that only
a small group is “smart”, which inhibits the majority to express themselves.
However teachers should play in this case a major role stimulating them
to appreciate their individual skills, for this group formation is a primary
tool. For example small group works at the beginning of the term, in which
the instructor should assign the roles, might help to identify personal
abilities and to build mutual respect in class. To obtain this, there should
as many specific roles as possible, for example, recorder, reporter, checker
or moderator. Depending on the subject students could be divided depending
on activities, like writer, drawer and speaker. Other authors as Furtwengler
(in Foyle, 1995) believe that group auto evaluation is an important way
to stimulate students to perform the best they can in their groups, since
they will be assess by their own study partners.
Arousing critical thinking
“Collaborative learning” is defined as a new “student-centered” approach
in education, since it attempts to establish a more democratic and horizontal
relationship between the one who teaches and those who are taught. According
to Bruffee (1995) from the moment in which teachers abandon their leading
position in the classroom, groups are invited to build their knowledge
using doubt as their universal tool towards what is supposed to be “known”.
From that point of view it is necessary to encourage the development of
students judgment and permitting them to arrive to the same goal through
different ways and by those means “challenge” pre-established practices.
This leads into what Ventimiglia (1994) has characterized as the capacity
to get involved and transform the world in a creative and innovative way.
Ventimiglia (1994) indicates three steps in order to achieve this goal:
involvement in the learning process, discussion over the different topics
and challenge of what has been learned. Involvement is the fact to permit
students and instructor to introduce topics to the course. Frederick (in
Foyle 1995) suggests teachers to establish basic topics but letting students
modify them through brainstorming, this makes teachers “guides and not
guivers”. Discussion suggests Frederick should be done through, debate
over dichotomous issues, and questions which should incite students to
express their own ideas. Finally instructors should stimulate challenge
in the classroom, favoring a learning process in which students integrate
information to discover knowledge by themselves. This interactive method
will then result in the process, that Yates (in Foyle, 1995) called “attaching
meaning” to Education.
THE WEAKNESS OF THE METHOD
Despite the commonly agreed advantages of “Collaborative learning” there
are still some barriers to its use in higher education.
In this sense, Kinnick’s opinion (1995) is that the method presents major
classroom management difficulties. The lack of authority in the classroom
apparently favors multiple disciplinary problems in some students who supposedly
let their behavioral problems flow freely. Those are classified as not
integrating to groups effectively (lost attitude), not fulfilling their
duties inside the group (lazy comportment) or trying to impose their opinions
to their partners (dictatorial behavior). Kinnick emphasizes the fact that
some students might need precise, direct steps to follow, while “collaborative
learning” expects exactly the opposite. In her opinion just the most extrovert
students have the chance to express themselves, leaving the rest of the
class in silence and “running wild”.
All these can be related to the logical fear to what Ventimiglia (1994)
calls “the unknown”. In her opinion transforming the traditional method
based on results or “product-oriented education” to the “student centered”
process is really tough, not just for teachers but especially for students
who might not understand or even accept their new responsibilities.
The need of continual training
Funtwengler (in Foyle 1995) enumerates what he considers the main obstacles
to “Collaborative Learning” technique. First the author emphasizes a generally
poor feedback during classes since higher education system is less restrictive
for teachers than school. Secondly he notes generally reduced encouragement
of methodological training and discussion over educational strategies among
Even the supporters of the method as Ventimiglia (1994) have pointed
out the consequence of harder and more complicate work for teachers practicing
this method since they have to spend more time, learning the technique,
preparing courses and supervising student activities.
In this sense Magney (1997) points out that experience interchange
and continual training might help dealing with this challenges. At last
what appears to be the main point to overcome these obstacles is what Foyle
(1995) has called the designing and practice of “Collaborative Learning”
strategies. These should be prepared based on specific course characteristics
(size, study major, diversity, cultural background) to outline a method
to reach “Collaborative Learning” goals.
Collaborative learning applicability
Even if many of the theoretical supporters of the method, as Foyle (1995),
state its validity in all branches of knowledge and for any kind of education
level, practice seems to point out different results. John Magney (1997)
found through a survey of teachers their preference to use the method for
practical work, as workshops and laboratories. As a matter of fact,
this seems logical since a group is capable to engage into more complicated
subjects than individuals could afford. That’s why “collaborative learning”
appears to be more efficient in those subjects that require a great amount
of work, especially if many different activities or steps (for example
research, discuss, analyze, write and present) are involved.
THE METHOD APPLIED TO ARCHITECTURE
Architecture education intends to develop in students a certain number
of major skills, which are supposed to permit them to engage lately in
a successful professional life. For example the School of Architecture
of Yale University (on line: http://www.yale.edu/Architec) focuses its
program on three major objectives: to stimulate sensitivity, to develop
creative thinking and to help students acquire individual capabilities
to engage in professional practice. The School of Architecture and Planning
of University of Buffalo (on line: http://www.ap.buffalo.edu/) intends
to prepare students for two major goals, to place the practice of Architecture
in relation to social and cultural frameworks and to develop critical thinking
toward current practice. From this specific approaches to architecture
education it can established how the virtues of “collaborative learning”
method match with architect’s major skills, which have been stated as the
ability to join multidisciplinary teams, creativity and capacity to engage
in practical and continuously changing problems.
Developing Social Skills: Professionals have affirmed the importance
and benefit of developing teamwork capacities in real life practice. Experiences
such as the one described for the construction of Coleman Federal Correction
Complex (Galey, Pogrzeba and Reinerman, 1996) in which engineers, designers,
contractor and the owner agreed to manage the project through a “partnering
strategy” shows the need and benefits of collaborative work in the job
site very accurately. Indubitably this is also a very good example of what
Bruffee (1995) called “sharing our toys”. In fact Dill (1997) when defining
the major challenges of the profession insisted on the student’s capacity
to be prepared for professional practice in which the relation with clients,
engineers and industrial designers should be daily.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute (on line: http://www.arch.vt.edu/) defines
architecture studies as an interdisciplinary degree, which opens students
minds to a wide universe of study fields. Dill (1997) called Architecture
the “holistic art par excellence” since it appears to be closely related
with many specialties. This is not just true for building but for planning,
designing and researching. However it is generally agreed that the career
should not become a huge mosaic of disciplines (Dill 1997) composed of
drawing, mathematics, structures, history, psychology, sociology and ecology,
but to remain specialized in “creating human environment” as Yale University
Department of Architecture has established. All this permits to demonstrate
the necessity of architecture studies to develop social skills in students
in order to permit them to interact with other specialists whom they will
need to accomplish their main professional purposes. Therefore the “collaborative
learning” method appears as an appropriate instrument to achieve this goal.
Stimulating individual capacities: The School of Architecture of the
MIT (on line: http://architecture.mit.edu) emphasizes the fact that architecture
education should “open diverse paths” to students in a varied number of
fields, from design to teaching, planning, real estate, arts or communications.
This is basically the same position held by other Schools of Architecture,
like in the University of Syracuse (on line: http://soa.syr.edu) which
highlights the importance to allow students the discovery of a “personal
expression” through which they will be able to realize their personalities
and offer a better work to society.
Dill (1997) lists five major fields in which architects are required
to work in their professional life, design, planning, project communication,
construction and project management. In his opinion architecture education
should specialize students, since college, in one of this areas in order
to permit them integrate into the “real world practice”. For this, schools
have to discover student’s personal skills and then develop individual
abilities. In the same article the author states that students should get
involved on preparing and managing long projects to test their ability
for future professional work. Then it becomes evident how this matches
with “collaborative learning” method.
Arousing Critical Thinking: Architecture Design has been characterized
by the Department of Architecture of Harvard University (on line: http://www.gsd.harvard.edu/depts/archdept.html)
as the capacity to synthesize a broad body of knowledge to be followed
by the “skillful manipulation of the form” in order to solve design challenges.
It emphasizes as well the importance of a “creative and always renewing
approach” which must promote among students the capacity to engage and
enjoy “lifelong learning”. Besides architects are expected in the new coming
“global village”, to be able to “deal with clients and projects virtually
in every corner of the globe” as the MIT declares it in its Mission Statement.
These qualities are closely related to the arousing of critical thinking
that “collaborative learning” intends to promote. Architecture cannot be
tided up by pre-elaborated procedures or answers since creativity its one
of its major attributes.
As it has been stated group work techniques had appeared as an
alternative to traditional education to encourage the development of group
discipline, creative thinking and high student involvement in the study
of complex subjects. All these are valuable qualities in the learning process
of Architecture. Even though the method is apparently full of obstacles,
those should be seen as challenges, which can be overcome through training
and experience. In fact the effectiveness of collaborative learning in
architecture higher education shall result from the appropriate design
of the learning process in order to stimulate future professional skills
with adequate methods and techniques.
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Dewey, J. (1963). Democracy in education. New York: Collier; first
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Dill, W. (1997). A New Future for Architecture Education and Practice.
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Foyle, H. (1995). Interactive learning in the higher education classroom.
Washington, D.C: National Education Association of the United States.
Galey, M.; Pogrezba, R.; Reinarman P. (1995). Coleman Federal Correction
Complex: the power of partnering at work. Corrections Today, v 58, 124-127.
Kinnick, J. (1995). Groping my way through the group method. The Clearing
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