Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The master/apprentice model

This model formed the basis of the first modern design school, the Bauhaus. As well as providing quite rigid scaffold in the form of an initial 'foundation' course in the basic underlying design principles, the Bauhaus facilitated learning by promoting staff as active practitioners. By witnessing and working alongside the masters as they practiced their art and design, students of the Bauhaus gained knowledge and understanding through social learning. This approach has dominated art and design pedagogy ever since, but some embrace is more forcefully than others. This quote from Bennington College, Vermont, sums it up pretty well:
"Two things intersect in the master-apprentice model of teaching: the Bennington principle of learning by doing, and the passion and mastery of the faculty, all teacher-practitioners doing ongoing work in their fields. Bennington’s curriculum is driven by the faculty, who teach courses that reflect their current curiosities as well as their deep knowledge of their particular disciplines. The way in which they create new work and pose new questions becomes a model for students, who in turn and over time create work and pose questions of their own with the faculty as mentors."

Many design educators have, in my opinion, slipped into the trap of over-emphasising the industrial focus, dwelling on real world practice as a basis for study, at the expense of a deeper understanding.
Graduate study should never imitate professional practice; rather, it should challenge students to look deeply into the discipline and into themselves to connect design to its culture, its history, its users, its society, and its technology

The kind of master that I value is not the master designer, but the master learner. The master I have in mind is an uber-learner who shares the power of discovery with his apprentices.

At Leeds Met, we are trying to re-invigourate this particular flavour of the master/apprentice model through the manipulation of our learning environment. Graham has his own public studio space with a number of Macs that staff and students drop in to use. Graham has his beast of a Mac, and is usually to be found there working on his various research projects. I have duplicated this sort of space within my course's space. I have a handful of Macs, some comfy chairs and a spot to plug in my laptop. It's not my office, but it is the place that I work on my research and practice. Students work alongside me, and I discuss my learning as well as theirs.

The virtual master/apprentice model
The master/apprentice model has manifested itself in a profound way through our involvement with Second Life. AngryBeth ShortBread acted as a mentor to Kisa Naumova in the early days of her Second Life exploits, and still plays that role when time permits. Kisa in turn acted as Cubist's mentor when I first started out, and she is still there for me when I need to tap into her vastly superior expertise. Our keenest Second Life student often comes and chats to me whilst I am building a hologram or new tool, and the more advanced development of my practice helps her to develop her own practice.

The LeedsMet sim that we will use for the pilot has been designed to provide the virtual equivalents of our real life 'hubs'. Kisa has the northwest corner of the sim, Cubist has the southeast. Our bigger plots are bordered by the smaller personal plots of the participating students. Students will be able to watch us work, see work in progress, and see the work that we have already produced. By setting examples of good practice, we will provide students with a framework for engaging in similar activities, with the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue.

1 comment:

bg53 said...

I was researching this theory for my professor. Here is the earliest mention in an academic paper.