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Use Of Studio Methods In The Introductory Engineering Design Curriculum

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.1095.1 - 6.1095.11

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Mary Cardenas

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Patrick Little

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2425

Use of “Studio” Methods in the Introductory Engineering Design Curriculum

Patrick Little, Mary Cardenas Harvey Mudd College Claremont, California


A number of themes, including interest in first year design courses, commitment to active learning approaches, and desires for changes in course structures and costs have come together in a variety of teaching approaches. Some of these approaches have been referred to as using “studio” methods, although the particular pedagogy appears to vary greatly. In this paper, some of these experiments are briefly reviewed and placed in a larger context of studio education in other disciplines. The paper seeks to differentiate studio education from other active learning approaches. An introductory engineering design course was taught using an architecture studio model for two semesters. The experiment demonstrated that the studio method can be very effective in teaching design concepts.

1. A Review of Studio Education

The term “studio” has been widely used in engineering and science education in recent years. Courses reported to use studio in technical education have ranged from introductory science, math and engineering programs1-3 to undergraduate courses in heat transfer4, Mechatronics5, up through a graduate level course in software design6. While all these courses have a commitment to reduced lecture by the instructor and more active learning on the part of the student, they do not all appear to have a common definition of what is specifically meant by the studio. In fact, the leaders of one of the most widely recognized engineering curricular experiments in recent years, Wilson and Jennings of RPI, specifically reject such definition,

The definition of a studio course is not meant to be prescriptive or overly restrictive. Instead it is meant to describe a general approach to interaction with students that is instructor facilitated, student centered, and very hands on. When an audience is asked to describe what they do in a lecture hall, they invariably suggest activities such as: listen, take notes, chat, sleep, read, and so on. When asked what they think might happen in a studio they usually suggest: paint, draw, sculpt, write, and other active pursuits. The difference is clear. The focus in a studio is on work done by the student. That is the key distinction.1

While this definition (or refusal to make one) is useful in understanding and appreciating the creative freedom and pedagogic experimentation in that school's reform of the introductory engineering curriculum, the lack of a specific definition may serve to make assessment of studio courses more difficult than necessary. Indeed, the distinction offered seems to be more between lecturing and active learning than on the studio itself. It is perhaps noteworthy that in many

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Cardenas, M., & Little, P. (2001, June), Use Of Studio Methods In The Introductory Engineering Design Curriculum Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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