6/6 Module Case Study

The Product Design Students New Toy!

We have just launched the next module to the student’s on the Product Design course here at The University of Salford. Myself and Alex Williams want to engage the students on a deeper level and have responded with this bold project. My intention is to use the module as a case study over coming weeks as part of my PGCAP.


More images available here: http://s1204.photobucket.com/albums/bb411/despard1974/

The students will be conducting a thorough ergonomic and human factors analysis on the on this sleeper cab over the next week in their allocated groups. They will then construct a space frame of the cab in the studio that will be used to design and test elements of the cab.

First Few Days

User interaction analysis, ergonomic studies, human factors analysis have all taken place in the first few days. The students are now armed with an increasing depth of data to use as the module develops.  As I reflect on the first few days of the project I ask myself what type of learning is happening, surface and deep learning? At the moment it appears surface learning is taking place as recording of data is the main activity through taking photographs and recording distance measurements this is low down the pyramid on Blooms Taxonomy. In the Educational Psychology Interactives analysis of Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs like list, and name are apparent. Further up Blooms Taxonomy but still low down we are using verbs such as discuss (group work) and sketch. I do anticipate that after a few more days we will be exploring more verbs and progressively climbing the pyramid, but we will see!. I must say though that I prefer the University of Colorado, Anderson and Krathwohl revision The Cognitive Domain as this uses words of instant recognition to myself in my field of Design headings such as creating, evaluating, and analysing. The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Iowa State University provides an excellent graphic representation on how these two taxonomies can be used together to generate lesson objectives.

Chrissi Nerantzi, our tutor has suggested that this type of learning could be object-based learning and has referred me to a book titled Inquiry-based learning using everday objects. Alvarado (2003, 6) states ‘The objects are the central component of the lesson and the overall unit of study’. As I read further the learning theory appears to be focused on a group of students analysing an object such as ocean organisms and asking questions and answering them to slowly reveal key information such as where in the ocean does the organism live?, what does it eat?, why does it have a thick shell? etc. It is clear that this theory encourages the students to go deeper into the object than they would in general day to day activities, I find this is a very important skill to have in my subject Design and the teaching team are continually encouraging depth to the students work. The object acts as the catalyst for learning. Can this be applied to different types of objects,  ‘by exploring material culture (art, artifacts, specimens, documents, etc.), people can learn about the object and its relationship to other objects, people, eras and ideas’, (Albany Institute of History and Art)

The Truck in our module does have similarities to the ocean organism scenario, as discussed above the students first task is to research and question the existing object asking questions such as, Is this handle comfortable to use? How do I gain access to the engine? etc these questions are answered by the actvity of doing by getting into the truck and experiencing the product as an experience. So both examples use questioning, inquiry and investigation, so both are object based learning, the Design students are learning how to investigate how a product is used and interacted with by asking questions, revealing answers which then informs the rest of their module whilst the Biology students do the same. There are though a number of diffences but this is more due to the differing subject styles and demands rather than one not being object based, the differences I have observed are:

1. When we ask where do the students go next with this new found information? The Design students use this information as a creative catalyst to produce new possibilities whilst the Biology students use the information to inform how to reveal what other organisms do.

2. It appears that the Biology learning scenario is one of many similar investigations conducted in the module whilst the Design learning scenario is a one off preparation to act as a basis for the module.

3. The Biology scenario appears to demand that the students operate at a deeper level sooner in the activity whilst in the design scenario the depth of learning comes later. Alvarado (2003, 6) state that ‘A third essential part of object-based learning involves utilizing well-thought-out questions which will stimulate critical, higher-level thinking by the students’.

I have though conducted a series of sessions where the task came very close to the description of the Biology scenario. In this 2 week task each group of students had a product to study in depth asking questions about the products visual language, Why is the body of the product made of metal? Why is there a plastic bird on the spout? Why is the product shaped the way it is? etc. Due to reflection I would say that it was one of my most memorable series of lessons but I have not done it for a few years now! One of the product’s studied is below, may I ask you to observe the product and ask yourself the question why is the bird used and positioned on the kettle?

Any Ideas Why the Bird sits on the front of the kettle? It does have a functional requirement that is to whistle when the water is boiled but from an aesthetical meaning point of view the students deduced that the whistleing bird was reminiscent of the 3D figures that adorn luxury cars like Bentley and Rolls Royce and therefore suggesting that this kettle is a status object. The handle developed discussions around the fun nature of colourful wire beads maze that we played with as children.  These and further finding were presented as a group to the rest of the class.

Following Weeks 02 and 03

Photos: http://s1204.photobucket.com/albums/bb411/despard1974/

Standing back from the activities of weeks 2 and 3 I feel the project has lost some of its pace. In a PBL scenario how do the staff members ensure that energy is consistant from week to week? In this scenario the teacher definetley becomes the facilitator. In weeks 2 and 3 the project began to ask the students to make a replica truck cab based on measurements from week 1. Photos and movie can be found above. This group task enabled them to construct their group area scenario as each group has the task to design different areas of the cab, for instance getting in, sleep area, driver space etc. This making activity created a vibrant, and fun learning space though certain students backed off completley and watched whilst others really embraced the challenge. This was down to some students being more confident with wood construction and the use of saws and other tools. As Facilitator I found that it was important to set mini tasks for group members participating less though feel that next year students need to do a full separate session on the importance of group working inspired by Moon’s (2009) studies on Making Groups Work.

The importance of making.

Making is an essential and pleasurable part of the subject of design and often a reason for studying the subject. ‘Making’ steps with the learner through their studies beginning with exploring the basics of materials  such as cardboard, foam, wood and metal. A designer’s ‘mind’s eye’ can work in 3-D, rotating, adding, subracting but limit’s are soon found with complex constructions. This is where making is the only way to realise the vision. So we could say that designers are good at making, and should form an essential part of their learning process, this must begin at a basic level and develop into something that gives designers appreciation from others. It becomes clear that making explores new learning channels for the learners mind. Press and Cusworth (1996, 5) state ‘Craft education appears to impart new styles of thinking, acting and problem solving to its students, which may be more appropriate than traditional learning systems, in our changing culture’. Moving away from pedalogical benefits Gauntlett (2011, 2) suggests the importance of making as a tool for engaging and a networking the world, ‘making is connecting because through making things and sharing them in the world, we increase our engagement and connection with our social and physical environments’. So we can see that making is important to learning while Jeffrey (2005, cited in Craft 2007, 2) talks about ‘Creativity in education with children and a technique that uses ‘possibility thinking’, ‘At its most fundamental, it involves the posing, in multiple ways, of the question ‘What if?’ – and therefore involves the shift from ‘what is this and what does it do?’ to ‘What can I do with this?’ and thus has implicit within it, the engagement of learners with what the CLASP team call ‘engagement with problems’’.

Install more reflection in the student journey!

This should take place at the beginning of the year. Making is connecting

The project after week 03 is interrupted by easter for 3 weeks before we pick up from week 4 after easter, so I now have time to plan for week 4 to ensure I help the students focus on the project. I plan to do this in three ways:

1. Focused project individual tutorials to ensure they understand where they are at and what there targets are.

2. Clear the studio wall  as to create an atmosphere that ‘work need to be done’ to fill the wall.

3. 3 Dimensional model making of design proposals

Truck Project – Tutorials – (Week 04)

Held project tutorials which gave me an opportunity to question the students about their experience of group work, 3D exploration as a learning tool, and their overall project experience so far. A number of interesting patterns are beginning to emerge within this module. I began the tutorial with going back to Week 01 and the conversation started:

Week 01 (GROUP) – Truck Cab Human Factors Analysis – Groups climbed on, interacted, used, tested, measured the truck cab to develop their working knowledge of the overall product. The student response was very positive and all students were excited about the project and enjoyed the first weeks task. Comments included ‘it was good to experience the physical object’, ‘we could test the cab features with different sizes of people’, ‘I have never been in one before but it was critical to experience the object to be confident enough to design one’, ‘its easier to visualise the problems’, ‘I now see the importance of thorough analysis when the opportunity is there’, ‘I should have analysed it more’, ‘we could share opinions and work together’, ‘it was a happy environment and atmosphere’, ‘real research’, ‘good to perform thorough analysis in a limited time’, ‘it forced us to consider human scale which is a fundamental part of the learning outcomes’.

Week 02 (MASS GROUP) – Space-frame build – this activity did not prove as fruitful and some students commented that there was not enough to do. In this activity 2 groups of about 5-6 students formed an action groups to make the frame. This activity took one full day.

Group work is a powerful learning tool, the students have worked in groups for 9 weeks and as a member of staff I thought that it was very risky to continue this way of working without letting them break off into individual working opportunities, I thought that the usual group problems would dominate and begin to make their experience un-enjoyable. It appears that my fear is actual unfounded. The students are appreciating the group work activities and through discussion the students have made the following comments, ‘I am not a group leader but my group colleagues give me confidence with my ideas’, ‘being in a group we could experience the tilt mechanism together, nobody knew anything before but we helped each other to understand’, ‘we help each other with our ideas’, ‘learning together’.

There is though negative comments made about group work as certain individuals have either not taken their responsibilities seriously enough or do not seem to enjoy group working and so it could be said that they are not benefiting from such activities. Comments include, ‘can work in team but would rather be on my own’, ‘easier not to have any challengers’, ‘no group work in design A-level so is new within my design education’, ‘not seen many of my group’.

Working in 3-D both interactive and build. There appears to be something quite powerful happening when students explore and build 3-D situations. They have had very positive experiences so far, ‘I am not very confident with making but working with others is giving me confidence’, ‘3-D investigation enables me to make things work’, ‘I now realise that I can see resolve design issues in 3D much quicker’, ‘It  gives me a better understanding’, ‘I can understand detail and mechanisms in depth’. They also appear to be absorbed in 3D activity in a deeper more engaged way.

Student working on 3D problems

Coming weeks: Over coming weeks it is the intention to make groups start to work with other groups to enable them to address any problems that will generate as the different parts of the new design come together this should again offer interesting insights into group working. There will also be another intense build session where teams will build the design into the space frame. My thoughts are changing on the power of group work as a learning tool and using 3D problems to engage the learner, 3D problem based learning!

Food for thought:

  • Monday AM staff student briefing sessions each week to set weekly individual and group plans.
  • Before we attempt to work in groups a session on ‘what it means to work in groups’ should be conducted.
  • How can I get working in 2-D to be as engaging as working in 3-D.

The final weeks 5 and 6

As I begin to conclude on this module I do so with an element of disappointment that the activity did not finish with the desired energy of previous modules. Without going into to much depth here, a cummulation of working factors has caused my focus to be split in multiple ways. In the latter weeks I feel the 3D build element did not continue to act as a powerful and critical learning catalyst and also key skills delivered to students in Semester One were not demonstrated to a level of previous modules. I often judge a student project on the final visual presentation of their product and though this is often a key indicator of the students level of attainment it could be argued that this is not everything and the deeper ‘harder to see’ learning that has taken place is actually more important. This is evidenced through their excellent attention to detail demonstrated within this project which has been shown through innovative and informed ideas that have been proved through complex prototypes succesfully testing mechansisms and human factors issues.

As I am writing the project has come to an end and the students have submitted but the final conclusion to this case study is still to be conducted. It is intended to offer the students a reflective tutorial to help them and myself to make better sense of the module and together highlight all things good and bad. The students will also be requested to complete an MEQ  but feel the tutorial will act as a better way of establishing data.

As I write post 5/6 ( https://despard.wordpress.com/56-mentor-observation/ ) the PGCAP has given me an excitement about organsing and conducting my next project with the students. Luckily for me a group of students have approached me with a desire to conduct a collective project over the summer months. My intention is to use this opportunity as a test bed for an online based project using some of the following, twitter, e-portfolios, wiki’s, google docs, elluminate, or skype. The hope is for the project to be both individual and group based but using the students to provide guidance and support to each other, therefore relying less on staff. This project could possibly form the basis of my Application of Learning Technologies module which should begin in September 2012.

UK PSF: A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, V1, V2, V3 V4, K1, K2, K3, K4, K5, K6


Alvarado, A. E. (2003) Inquiry-based learning using everday objects . Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Craft, A.; Cremin, T.; Burnard, P. and Chappell, K. (2007) Developing creative learning through possibility thinking with children aged 3-7. In: Craft, A.; Cremin, T. and Burnard, P. eds. Creative Learning 3-11 and How We Document It. London, UK: Trentham.

Gauntlett, D. (2011) Making is Connecting, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Moon, J. (2009) Making Groups Work: improving group work through the principles of academic assertiveness in higher education and professional development, Bristol: Higher Education Academy.

Press, M. Cusworth, A. (1998) New Lives in the Making. University of Sheffield, Crafts Council.

Race, P. (2009) The Lecturer’s Toolkit: A practical guide to assesment, learning and teaching. (3rd ed.). Oxon: Routledge.

Educational Psychology Interactive (online) Blooms Taxonomy, available at http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/bloom.html [accessed 19 May 12]

University of Colorado (online) Anderson and Krathwohl revision The Cognitive Domain, available at http://www.ucdenver.edu/faculty_staff/faculty/center-for-faculty-development/Documents/Tutorials/Assessment/module2/index.htm [accessed 19 May 12]

Iowa State University (online) A taxonomy for Learning, available at http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/RevisedBlooms1.html [accessed 19 May 12]

Albany Institute of History and Art (online) What is Object based Learning, available at http://www.albanyinstitute.org/mli/objectlearning.htm [accessed 19 May 12]


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