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Transformative Design Pedagogy: A Place-based and Studio-based Exploration of Culture

Lindsey Lawry Fay, Eun Young Kim

Abstract


The discipline of interior design education is committed to providing diverse learning opportunities for examining the topic of culture while implementing design practices that respond to the “needs of all humans” (Hadjiyanni, 2013, p.v). According to Conner et al. (2013), the number of people living in a country in which they were not born has increased by 51 percent worldwide since 1990. Therefore, the significance of cultural context in our daily lives demands effectively applicable design, and supporting design pedagogy that enhances cultural competency and global perspective. Cultural competency is gained from a transformation of knowledge about individuals and groups of people and their respective values and beliefs. This raises the question: How can design pedagogy disclose students’ presuppositions to generate profound perspective changes on culture? And secondly, what are the contexts within which this can occur? It is the goal of this paper to demonstrate the use of a transformative learning model (Mezirow, 2000) and its effectiveness in the achievement of cultural competency among design students, implemented from both remote and in-place cultural investigations.

“Transformative learning refers to dramatic change, where the learner achieves a shift in perspective. This shift results from a critical examination of one’s own assumptions, values, and beliefs, and of the foundations and expectations of the system in which one operates” (Nemec, 2012, p. 478). To implement this process, one instructor utilized methods of cultural investigation and documentation with interior design students in an education abroad experience, while in another course, first-year interior design students were tasked with the design of a conceptual design piece that reflected a cultural context assigned to them. Both courses began by asking students to critically analyze cultural assumptions and to engage in an accompanying discourse regarding the varied perspectives. As such, critical reflection and discourse were identified as key components of both courses.

It was found that several pedagogical methodologies were deemed more appropriate to the examination of culture when considering the various contexts of the courses. Thus, the transformative learning model was adapted to consider cultural context. For those students studying abroad, documentation strongly correlated to the attainment of cultural competence and was achieved through inter-cultural experiences including observations, personal reflection, and comparative analyses. By contrast, those students in the design studio expanded their cultural knowledge through remote research as a means of cultural investigation, and application of this through the design process, implementing collaborative thinking and imaginative problem solving.  Student learning outcomes revealed a transformation of cultural perspective, which was achieved through documented personal reflections of an experience and design applications with integrated collaborative discourse. In both courses, critical reflection and the accompanying dialog were identified as essential to gaining a shift in cultural understanding. 


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ISSN: 21586195

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