Changing the Course of History: Revising the Design History/Theory Sequence

Presented by: Patrick Lee Lucas, Sophie Good, Jessica Funke, Eunyoung Kim, Sabrina Mason, Anne Prather Helen Turner

This panel, comprised of faculty and a teaching assistant, revised the two-semester history/theory of design course.  Our work reflects concerns in the academy about the efficacy of history courses, typically taught as a linear sequence chronicling the history of interior environments from the dawn of time to the modern. In 2009, the Journal of Design History devoted an entire issue (22:4) to multiple authors who reconsidered the design survey to meet needs and goals of future designers.  Editors Hazel Clark and David Brody called for relevancy for students in the survey, a move away from the outmoded instructional pedagogies and, most of all, new strategies and approaches for teaching and learning relevant to twenty-first century students.  Responding to concerns about the effectiveness of the sequence as taught for the last several years, the aforementioned team collaboratively taught the courses around topical units (principles + elements, scale, materials, light, technology, experience, furnishings, finishes, representation, theory) to enable student access ten times to the chronology of buildings, spaces, and furnishings rather than the customary arc of a single chronology stretching over two semesters. With team delivery, students encountered multiple voices and viewpoints through connections to studio projects and through multi-modal instruction as an alternative to the “sage on the stage” history/theory lecture. 

As revised, the sequence provided benefit not only to the students but also the instructors.  Student assessment occurred across both semesters, generating lively discussion of data gathered by the teaching team, allowing them to formulate and construct real time feedback and to put new opportunities in place as the new sequence unfolded. With the multimodal approach at its core, the sequence provided fertile ground for students to sense a transparency in instructional delivery often left quite opaque in the traditional classroom.  Through active engagement, students became invested in the course material and felt a sense of commitment to the work necessary for completing the class successfully.  Resulting in a stronger connection to the material, this level of engagement bore directly on student retention and to positive trans-disciplinary thinking.  The re-orientation also permitted instructors a vehicle to introduce the program’s curriculum (basic approaches to design, scale, materials, light, technology, experience, furnishings, finishes, representation, theory) as part of the learning process with an opportunity to focus on personal or research interests within their pedagogy.

The teaching team of five will share their collective experience of the course revisions and outcomes in a panel session to encourage dialogue around alternative pathways to history/theory instruction of benefit to students, all the while meeting CIDA requirements. Rather than iterate through a traditional presentation, each panelist will conduct a teaching moment – pecha kucha style – to guide the audience through the approach. Through this “informance,” we introduce the schematic for the pair of courses and speak to data gathered to measure student comprehension and application of course materials.


  • Journal of Design History (22:4), 2009


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