Engaging a Client, User and Industry Partner in Innovative, Experiential and Authentic Learning: A Collaborative SoTL Project

Presented by: Angela McKillip, Kay Cutler

Problem The design studio is where students test ideas, apply knowledge and explore solutions (Gurel, 2010). However, in current educational settings, much of this work is completed digitally; creating a gap in learning due to the two-dimensional, primarily representational solution, and a three-dimensional fully manifested creation (Konkel, 2014). Moreover, due to the hypothetical nature of most projects, students miss the opportunity to engage with a client, a driving force in professional practice. This project supports the process of generating new knowledge and pedagogy, as well as interdisciplinary and multiple perspective practice. The focus question for this discussion is “how clients, users and industry partners coupled with experiential engagement impact student learning”. Sub-discussions emphasize “how inquiry-based experiences impact the college classroom, faculty and students” and expansion of ‘Build-to-Learn’ and ‘Service-Learning’ discourse (Konkel, 2014, Corser and Gore, 2009). This SoTL study measured impacts through a triangulation of reflections, interviews, and survey methods. Method/Strategy In collaboration with an on-campus laboratory school (client/user) and an early childhood education product design and manufacturing organization (industry partner), undergraduate students explored, designed, and built prototypes of ‘stools’ for use by teachers and children alike. This intensive study involved client interaction, user observation and market-relatability in every phase of the design process. Furthermore, an industry partner as referenced indicates an entity integrated into project formation, providing expertise and leading the market-immersion of prototypes constructed in the studio. This type of partnership goes beyond current frameworks to include students in undergraduate participatory research, innovation, patented intellectual property and entrepreneurial endeavors while addressing social responsibility. Preliminary Data The preliminary data reveal interesting trends. First, students’ self-reported comfort in the design process went from a 3.8 (on a 5-point scale) to a 3.2. In this process, lab-school teachers sat side by side with students during a rapid prototyping process, wherein the stream of interaction included ongoing elements of the clients’ thoughts and desires. Its plausible students knew less about rapidly interpreting a client’s needs into a design solution than thought by going through the experience. Additionally, students fully manifested their ideas in built form, while considering sustainable and lean manufacturing processes, an unfamiliar process. Conversely, they enthusiastically enjoyed learning about inquiry-based early childhood education, taking on children’s perspectives regarding an object in their environment, and delving into the design of ‘rich-normality’. Regarding inquiry-based, experiential learning the preliminary results indicated that the students reveled in the opportunity. Students reported that their knowledge and comfort level when from 2.95 to 4 when utilizing power tools, 0 to 3.9 with CNC technology, and 3.5 to 4.5 when developing details. Students also reported high amounts of collaboration with people across campus. It was interesting to note that they did not report collaborating with lab-school teachers. When considering why, it may be that clients are seen in a different light and not as equal collaborators in the process. This perception may come from a lack of the clients’ involvement in a typical educational setting. The benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration and full-scale construction to enhance learning outcomes are areas of interest in interior design education. This SoTL project engages strengths of two academic units while connecting industry partner to experience the design process full-scale in a meaningful and very authentic manner. Full results of the study and future directions will be presented.


  • Corser, R. & Gore, N. (2009). Insurgent architecture: An Alternative Approach to Design-Build, Journal of Architectural Education, 32-39.
  • Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York, NY: Kappa Delta Pi.
  • Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (2012). The Hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia experience in transformation. Reggio Emilia, IT: Reggio Children.
  • Gurel, (2010). Explorationsin teaching sustainable design: A studio experience in interior design/architecture. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 29(2), 184-199.
  • Konkel, M.T. (2014). Build to learn: An Examination of pedagogical practices in Interior Design education, Journal of Interior Design, 39(2), 1-16.
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