The Studio Scenario:  Experiential Learning in the Information Environments Program ?
School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering
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The studio-based Information Environments Program at UQ Ipswich is believed to be the first degree program of its kind.  The Studio approach, widely used in design disciplines such as architecture, has been introduced to the teaching and learning of Information Technology, a subject traditionally taught as a scientific or engineering discipline.  This approach recognises the limitations to the traditional focus of IT education, with its emphasis on analytic methods and techniques with less attention paid to the art of integration and synthesis or the human context.  The studio approach is learner-centred, multi-disciplinary and promotes interaction, teamwork and problem-solving in a real-life context.  The new Ipswich campus afforded an ideal opportunity for introducing the program with classrooms and facilities designed for Studio work and with staff from the design and IT disciplines brought together to define a shared vision of Studio-based IT education.

The program utilises a design stream of courses to develop students' ability to see, observe, sketch and make physical models.  These represent fundamental idea generation and communication skills for designers.  The curriculum consists of three courses and one integrative studio each semester so that students are learning and developing design and IT skills and bringing them to bear in their studio projects.  The iterative cycle draws on areas of knowledge through studio projects and then repeats the process which reflects the students' level of progression as they learn, practice and develop their skills and understanding.  The outcomes build through one studio course to the next, encouraging students to tackle diverse and complex problems.

Studio enhances teaching and learning by breaking with the transmissive mode of delivery and encouraging a student-centred approach, emphasising reflection and flexible learning within relevant contexts.  It encourages deep learning and facilitates students' ability to transfer knowledge and understand new contexts.  Student satisfaction with the studio approach has been high, as indicated in course evaluations.  Many students report a sense of individual satisfaction of working in a team context through contributing to a shared vision.  There is also evidence of improved oral presentation skills.  The approach has attracted attention leading to invited presentations by teachers in the program both within the University and at a number of international events and organisations, and has been the subject of a number of national and internal conference and journal publications.

Dr Geraldine Fitzpatrick was working at the Distributed Systems Technology Centre when the program was being developed and has been impressed with the outcome.  She writes:

"?The importance of the hands-on, team-based studio-based approach for in-context learning became even more apparent to me when I worked for an international business and technology company in London.  Here we worked in multi-disciplinary teams, formed and re-formed to engage with client problems and asked to deliver within tight timeframes.  We worked from user research through to concept to iterative prototyping to full design solutions, engaging with the client throughout this process.  This is exactly the approach that the studio program takes and will equip students with the range of skills they will need to be productive members of these types of teams ? the skill set needed is as much about being able to work in dynamically formed teams as it is about being able to deliver core research and design content."

Having moved into academia, we are now using the UQ Information Environments program as a model for the design of a new undergraduate degree course in human-centred technology??This approach fits into new moves at the University of Sussex to look for innovative ways to engage students pro-actively in their own learning, an approach that UQ have been at the forefront of developing."

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