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Teaching Studios

What are studios?

Studios involve (Reimer & Douglas, 2003):

  • Experiential learning, or learning by doing.
  • Lectures are not separate, but integrated within a studio session; lectures are shorter, around 20 minutes.
  • Production of “real world” artifacts using “real world” design processes.
  • Students acting as active learners with instructors and TAs acting as resources.
  • Teacher-student and student-student collaborations.
  • Assessing student work based on both the process of designing artifacts and presentation of the final product.
  • Reflection on feedback on the design process and final product is an important part of learning.
  • Specialized studio rooms (often, but not always).

Why studios? (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2011)

  • They can be incorporated in most fields of study: arts, physical sciences, social sciences or engineering.
  • Studios provide more creative avenues for instructors to achieve their learning objectives.
  • Studio spaces give all students an opportunity to express themselves.
  • Studios have been shown to increase student engagement, motivation and retention.

Getting Started with Teaching Studios

  1. What is the difference between studios and labs?
  2. How can you prepare to conduct studios?
  3. How can you work with TAs effectively?
  4. What should you plan for the first session?

Teaching and Learning in Studios

  1. How can you make your studio course effective?
  2. How can you assess student learning in studios?
  3. What are some considerations for studios in different fields?

Getting Started with Teaching Studios

1. What is the difference between studios and labs?

  • The RPI Studio Model for Science and Engineering was developed in the 1990s. In this model, studio means “the integration of lecture, lab and discussion into one scheduled time period of the class held in a single room. It also de-emphasizes lectures and emphasizes hands-on team activities.” (Reimer & Douglas, 2003).
  • The RPI model has been known to be effective and slightly different to the studio models for the design fields. In this model, “the studio approach supplements regular lecture and discussion courses; it does not replace or condense them.” (Reimer & Douglas, 2003).
  • Studio courses are practice-oriented and usually require more time (Reimer & Douglas, 2003).

2. How can you prepare to conduct studios?

  • Decide what the studio learning outcomes are. What is it you want students to be able to do as a result of participating in the studio?
  • Refer to the following questions as prompts to design your studio (Lang, 1983):
  • Are you teaching both the lecture and studio components?
  • How many studios do you want to include?
  • What specific methods should the students be using?
  • What aspects of the process/exercise should be given and what should the student be designing?
  • What kinds of work should be done on a team basis and what on an individual?
  • What specific skills should be developed before and during a studio?
  • What will your role be?  (teacher, facilitator, critic)
  • How best can theory be integrated into your studio?
  • What procedural issues should be the focus of attention?
  • What substantive issues should be addressed?
  • Preview and prepare your space. While studio spaces in the arts and design-related fields have individual workstations, engineering studios may require multimedia classrooms with moveable tables and other classroom technologies that student teams share (Moody, 2011).
  • Often, studio projects involve collaborative learning in studio sessions. Think ahead about how you will integrate group work.

3. How can you work with TAs effectively?

  • Whether working with one or multiple TAs, it is imperative to communicate the studio objectives and learning outcomes.
  • Invite TAs to contribute their ideas for teaching and learning and assessment for studios.
  • Provide a training session so that all TAs are comfortable with the studio space and all its equipment.
  • Hold regular meetings on the progress of the studio.
  • Invite TAs to lead a studio session, and have TAs observe you and other TAs lead a studio for peer feedback on teaching effectiveness.
  • For larger studios with multiple TAs, arrange a plan for how TAs will help students such as by dividing up the room.

Here are more strategies for working effectively with TAs.

CTI Faculty Seminar Session Materials

CTI Collaborating Effectively with TAs pdf (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)

4. What should you plan for the first session?

  • Lay out the studio aims, objectives and strategies from the beginning.
  • Set the tone. Plan to share information about yourself and your approach to studios.
  • Find out about your students expectations and any past experiences with studios.
  • Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other by using icebreakers.
  • If your studio course involves group work, start students off with group work on the first day.
  • Communicate and agree upon the duties of students and the role of the instructors and TAs.
  • To encourage collegiality, establish ground rules and expectations for collaboration and participation.

CTI Faculty Seminar Session Materials

CTI Icebreakers pdf (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)
CTI Establishing Ground Rules pdf (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)

Teaching and Learning in Studios

How can you make your studio course most effective?

  • Connect studio assignments with the real world.
  • Since studio sessions are longer, it is important to vary session activities. Perkins (2005) lists this typical studio session structure breakdown for his studio sessions:
    • 15 minute mini-lecture
    • 45 minute group project
    • 15 minute discussion or mini-lecture
    • 90 minute group project
    • 30 minutes reporting/discussing
  • Since studio learning involves critiques of the artifact design process and final product, incorporate rubrics or guidelines to share with students as a guide for what they are expected to do and how they are going to be assessed.
  • When critiquing student work in front of a studio class, be sensitive to its impact on the student's confidence: emphasize a focus on the work/performance rather than the person.
  • Often large studios can be challenging for the instructor to provide real-time feedback to students. Come up with a strategy for student work groups to indicate how they are doing. Moody (2011) suggests a color-coded card strategy. Students can place the colored cards on their workstation for the instructor or TAs to see.
  • Green cards = All is well!
  • Yellow cards = We have a question.
  • Red cards = We need help now!
  • Strike a balance with feedback. Giving too much feedback might be overwhelming and discouraging, whereas too little might leave students with not enough guidance.
  • Work with students on how to self-assess as they move along the creation or design process.

How can you assess student learning in studios?

  • Refer to the learning outcomes of the studio – for example if the studio is to develop a student’s skill rather than on the quality of the product/artifact produced, then evaluations need to reflect that emphasis (Lang, 1983).
  • Consider breaking up assignments into stages so that students can give and receive feedback on their progress throughout the course.
  • Consider incorporating peer and self-assessment strategies throughout the stages of an assignment.

What are some considerations for studios in different fields?

For the Sciences

  • Studios in the sciences can often be very similar to laboratories, perhaps with the exception of specialized equipment. Researchers found that organizing a studio space with the instructor’s table and workstation in the middle can facilitate visual and oral communication (Bailey et al, 2000).
  • The length and frequency of the studio meetings can vary, depending largely on class strength and course requirements. Instructors should keep in mind, however that they allow enough time for experiments, activities, and discussion (Bailey et al, 2000).
  • The empirical nature of the sciences can be reinforced by interspersing discussion and problem-solving sessions with lectures, allowing time for feedback. Lecturing during studios works best if kept short to about 30 minutes, allowing a physical movement in the class to retain student engagement (Bailey et al, 2000).

For the Arts & Design fields

  • Studios in the Arts and Design fields demand a high energy level, creativity and forethought not only from student participants but also from instructors (Lang, 1983).
  • Studios, especially in the arts and design-oriented fields are not spaces to teach theory, rather a place to see the implications of theory. (Lang, 1983)
  • Research suggests that theory courses followed by studio courses or the reverse are both fruitful ways of designing the curriculum and can depend on the instructor’s preference. (Lang, 1983)

For Engineering

  • Instructors at the University of Montana and University of Oregon found that their students appreciated the studio environment, allowing them to create realistic artifacts and conduct collaborative exercises among themselves. However, their students found that they were unable to keep up with the readings in an integrated studio/lecture environment. They therefore suggest separating lectures and studios in engineering. (Reimer & Douglas, 2003)
  • Dym et al (2006) suggest that Project-based Learning (PBL) enhances student motivation and retention in engineering.



Attoe, W., & Mugerauer, R. (1991). Excellent studio teaching in architecture. Studies in Higher Education, 16, 1, 41-50.

Bailey, C. A., Kingsbury, K., Kulinowski, K., Paradis, J., & Schoonover, R. (2000). An integrated lecture-laboratory environment for general chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, 77, 195-198.

DiBiase, W. J., & Wagner, E. P. (April 01, 2002). Aligning general chemistry laboratory with a lecture at a large university. School Science and Mathematics, 102, (4) 158-171.

Dym, C. L., Agogino, A. M., Eris, O., Frey, D. D., & Leifer, L. J. (2006). Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning. Ieee Engineering Management Review, 34, 1, 65.

Lang, J. (1983). Teaching Planning to City Planning Students. An Argument for the Studio / Workshop Approach. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 2, 2, 122-129.

Moody, L., & 55th Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, HFES 2011. (2011). A studio-based approach to teaching ergonomics and human factors. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 545-549.

Perkins, D. (2005). The case for a cooperative studio classroom: Teaching petrology in a different way. Journal of Geoscience Education, 53 (1). 101-109.

Reimer, Y. J., & Douglas, S. A. (January 01, 2003). Teaching HCI Design With the Studio Approach. Computer Science Education, 13 (3) 191-205.

Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W.J.  (2011).  McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers. (13th ed.) Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning
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