Experiential Learning for Lighting: Engaging Students in Hands-On Collaborative Lighting Workshops

Presented by: Stephanie McGoldrick

Most interior design programs are able to devote only one or two courses specifically to lighting design, leaving limited time to teach lighting technologies and fundamental lighting design techniques. Experiential learning methods are often overlooked due to time constraints; however, these types of experiences not only lead to a holistic understanding of the lighting design process, but also add a level of excitement to this often intensive and technical subject. According to Brooks-Harris and Stock-Ward (1999), experiential learning activities such as workshops “provide environments for learning to occur in a dynamic and powerful manner” (p.1). Similarly, Kahvecioglu (2007) points out that “the integration of unique activities such as workshops, informal short-term studies, and diverse group organizations into the formal curriculum will provide a more creative and fruitful atmosphere for students” (p.12). So, how might a faculty member integrate this type of activity into a lighting design course? The presenter will share the development of a one-day lighting design workshop, the Festival of Lights, as well as highlight the successes and learning outcomes of the activity. The process begins with careful planning including connecting with professionals, selecting sites on campus, contacting facilities to ensure power support, and marketing the event. There are five key phases that take place during the workshop: meet and greet, ideation, installation, presentation, and reflection. During the initial phases, interdisciplinary teams are formed, supplies are distributed, and brainstorming begins. The professionals present their equipment, and students experiment with different types of lighting. The longest phase of the workshop is installation, during which the professionals and students work side by side to bring their ideas to life. After dark, displays are illuminated with the campus community and public invited to view them and listen to presentations by the design teams. Because experiential learning is meant to be a student-centered rather than teacher-centered approach (Briers, 2005, p.5), the faculty role is simply to facilitate a smooth process, circulate, and observe. Evaluating the event’s effectiveness involves two methods: a rubric to assess the students’ active participation and personal reflection surveys to determine the workshop’s success as a learning tool. The following student comment confirms the workshop’s ability to reinforce classroom information: “This event was definitely valuable. Before the event, I had a hard time picturing what certain lights looked like while being used (beam spread, CRI.) I now feel as if I have a better understanding of how certain beam spreads and lighting qualities look while illuminated.” Another student responded, “The professionals . . . were extremely influential. . . They taught us about their products and methods of using them all throughout the day. Their experience supplied each of us with more real life knowledge, which for me is always more beneficial.” This response highlights enhanced understanding, as well as the value of the connections made. Similarly, the professionals provided positive feedback, for example, ”I think all of the students of all teams came together with a creative blend of material design and well-conceived lighting treatments.” In fact, the professionals and students alike have made numerous requests for another workshop. The Festival of Lights provided an awareness of lighting design to the entire campus, leading to potential collaborations between the interior design department and other programs, like the fashion design department who is interested in developing a project in which students will model garments that incorporate LED lighting. Integrating an experiential workshop into the lighting design curriculum reinforces classroom learning and facilitates lasting connections between students and lighting professionals.


  • Brooks-Harris, J.E. & Stock-Ward S.R. (1999). Workshops: designing and facilitating experiential learning. USA: SAGE Publications.
  • Kahvecioglu, N.P. (2007). Architectural design studio organization and creativity. ITU A/Z, 4 (2), 6-26.
  • Briers, Gary E. (2005). Lighting their fires through experiential learning. The Agricultural Education Magazine, 78 (3) 4-5.
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