Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Using Service-Learning to Develop Collaboration Skills

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Using Service-Learning to Develop Collaboration Skills

Article excerpt


This paper presents a case study of a 38-student cohort in the fourth year of a five-year Bachelor of Architecture program at Louisiana State University. It focuses on how four service--learning projects were used to develop students' collaboration skills.


Architecture students are notorious for their independence, and subscribe to an earlier, but albeit suspect, vision of the architect as the Renaissance person, working alone exercising his or her creative skills to make places. Unfortunately this stereotype could not be farther from the truth. Contemporary architectural practice is highly complex, and with the exception of very small projects, always involves collaboration and frequently employs collaboration software. As Dana Cuff pointed out, "It is perhaps the digital restructuring of time and space that have most fundamentally transformed architecture and planning." (1) Architects work in teams in their offices, partner with consultants, and finally rely on contractors to execute their designs. Collaboration skills are increasing in importance as technology makes geographical separation insignificant and increases the options for specialization. Nonetheless, collaboration is often considered a secondary issue in architecture programs even though it is a required component of the professional degree program accrediting requirements. Unfortunately teaching methodologies at most schools reinforce the idea of the architect as independent thinker. (2) The studio approach to teaching, which is embraced at all programs, involves considerable one on one instructor-student contact which reinforces the students' tendency to work in isolation. The precedent for this emerges from an apprenticeship tradition, and the influence of the Ecole de Beaux Arts. Criticism of this approach began over seventy years ago when it was strongly rebuked in the Bosworth and Jones study on architecture schools in 1932. (3) More recently in Dana Cuff's 1989 Journal of Architectural and Planning Research article, she presents a compelling argument that the isolation of the design studio results in practitioners who are unable to work effectively with others. (4) In 1996 Boyer and Mitgang, in their expansive study of architectural education and practice, conclude that collaboration is necessary to enrich the profession, understand and promote diversity and "foster a climate of caring for human needs." (5)

Until recently, the curriculum at LSU was not an exception. The first three years of the professional undergraduate program are devoted to developing basic design skills and technical knowledge. A majority of non-studio work is taught in a traditional classroom setting, completed individually, and evaluated using papers, projects and traditional testing methods. Studio work is normally undertaken individually, but is occasionally augmented with team efforts to gather information or complete other tasks that may be used collectively. However, this collaborative work often has little impact on an individual student's performance. Studio teaching pedagogy further encourages individual work. Studio classes are typically small, fifteen students in the upper years, to enable the studio instructor to meet with each student individually for critiques at their desk during the four-hour class period held three days per week. Consequently, when students reach their fourth year of study they have developed an approach that minimizes collaboration in favor of individual effort. This is reinforced by the attitude many students subscribe to, that the realization of their creative ideas will be compromised if developed collaboratively. However as Nesbitt wrote in Twilight of Authority, "Despite the American creed of individualism, which locates motivation and achievement in the recesses of the individual mind and character, human accomplishment in almost any form is the product of association...." (6)

Curricular Structure of the Fourth Year

In response to the need for greater collaboration, the fourth year was restructured to promote teamwork, and collaboration with a service-learning partner. …

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