This post is co-authored by Beata Francis and Dimity Wehr.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

In 2017, student surveys including the national QILT survey indicated that students at UTS were not happy with their education experience, particularly in the Faculty of Education and Information Technology (FEIT). With a clear directive to improve the situation, the learning design team and peers got to work. As Churchill said, “Never waste a good crisis”!

Using the principles of the UTS Learning.Futures and UTS Model of Learning approaches to education, we developed, designed and delivered the first studio learning experience, Summer Studios. The approach places students at the heart of curriculum decision-making and provides learning spaces for them to practice and develop professional capabilities during courses as well as internships, placements and capstones.

Four years later, our work was recognised with a UTS Learning and Teaching Award for ‘Strengthening the UTS Model of Learning’.  Here we share the process we went through, how we shifted the mindset and practice of academics, and what impact it had on the student experience.

Making MIDAS

In 2017 the ADLT, Director for Research and Innovation and Teaching and Learning Design Team formed MIDAS to graduate ‘More Innovative, Design-Abled Students’. This movement is all about students and their contribution to an improved learning experience. MIDAS encourages academics to step away from their lecterns, PDFs, and PowerPoints to facilitate learning environments conducive to risk taking, iterative learning and preparing students for workplace learning.

I would like students to change or enhance their approach to learning (i.e. adopt the deep approach to learning) instead of getting better marks/grades (achieving approach or surface approach) in this subject.

Summer school academic Hadi Khabbaz, Associate Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Theoretical knowledge, standards, competencies, and technical proficiency are only one part of professional practice.  A professional applies these knowledges as driven by context. Where you practise, with whom, the location and duration require essential skills to achieve successful outcomes. We flipped the classroom and flipped the mindset of engineering and IT education. 

Authentic, real world learning environment 

The rigour lay in transforming assessments from quizzes and examinations to authentic assessment tasks that mirrored skills required in workplaces. The summer studio learning environment provided a practice-oriented space for students to stop chasing grades and engage in the joys of learning in teams through solving real-world challenges.

Ultimately, we want to create an experience so good that students will want all of their learning to be like that!

Summer studio coordinator

The subject was not graded, there were no lectures or tutorials, no quizzes, or exams. Students assimilated into ‘free range education’ mode and worked in teams to solve the industry-related challenge, fulfilling a set of Pass Criteria. 

Rather than focusing primarily on a technical artefact – a piece of road, a bridge, a circuit board – students were exposed to the complete design experience, a problem that needed solving, as they would encounter in an industry context. 

The process was evidenced in their design journals, reflection logs, actions to change, improvements and innovations based on feedback and individual learning contracts in an ePortfolio. Student facilitators came on board voluntarily, attending staff professional training sessions in preparation for the studio experience. 

From summer to semester: what’s next?

FEIT now has over 80 studios in the mainstream curriculum and in 2021 alone, over 2,500 students engaged in a studio learning environment.  Strong 2021 QILT results are testament to the success of the key practices we introduced and maintained over a 5-year period to recovery. 

However, the recognition and UTS Learning Award has not meant the team has taken the trophy and rested on their laurels. More studio subjects are in the pipeline, approaching learning through the lens of professional capabilities across schools in FEIT, transforming the culture and improving graduate outcomes and employment prospects. 

Read next: The Midas touch: how Summer Studios were born.

Watch this space for more stories in the series, intended to inspire others in the university to apply these innovative practices to their own contexts.

  • What a success story, so many elements of authentic learning to foster motivation, professional learning, retention etc. Congrats!

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