Teaching is the new learning in fourth year Architecture

Drawing a clear line between the more prescriptive undergraduate model, the new fourth year Master of Architecture program is challenging academic staff and their students by providing greater scope to direct their experience. Course co-ordinator, Yannis Zavoleas, with support from Architecture's Head of School Mark Taylor and two casual tutors, is driving a research-based approach to the course, where students are required to establish their own research aims and develop their own study briefs.

Fourth year architecture staff members 

In turn, the students' work enriches the research efforts of the academic staff. The model breaks down the traditional barriers between research and teaching.

"It is a model used widely overseas - I have used it in both the US and Greece. For us to be a truly world-class university it is important to keep pace with what's happening abroad," Yannis said.

"This model encourages new perspectives and creates diversity. By keeping our course design fluid and flexible, we can accommodate a flourishing academic vision. We may use the system, rather than be used by it."

"We are asking students to take ownership of their studies and view the course outline as a point of departure. This is a big leap from the undergraduate experience," Yannis said.

It also means fundamental changes for staff teaching the course. Alongside Yannis and Mark, casual tutors Vanessa Hedges and Mark Spence are adapting to the new delivery style - in itself a learning experience. 

Casual tutors bring external, professional perspectives

Yannis invited Mark and Vanessa to be part of the change, knowing they would be willing to try a new approach and bring external, professional perspectives to the mix.

"In years past we were simply handed a course to teach. Now each of us is really developing our own course," Mark Spence told us.

"The new model is a significant learning experience for us – one which is very important for our professional pursuits. It is a lot more work and responsibility but it is also far more motivating," Mark said.

Vanessa Hedges echoes this.  Both she and Mark Spence enjoy the collaborative approach to the course development and the teaching itself – a nice change from their solo professional practices.

"Stepping outside the constraints of a prescriptive course structure is very rewarding for us as creative professionals. Yes, it has its challenges but I am learning so much from my own experience and that of my students as they open themselves up to a new way of doing things. All of this helps me in my work outside the University," Vanessa said.

Yannis says the real-world, outside perspectives his casual tutors bring are fundamental to the success of the program delivery.

"The research-based model allows for the integration of intellectual discourse with what is going on around us. The University has a vital role to play in the revitalisation of Newcastle and society at large," Yannis said.

Change that is here to stay

Despite being only half way through the first year of the new model, all four agree that the new approach is here to stay, and may herald the beginning of a fundamental shift in the UON Architecture offering.

"The high attendance rates are extremely encouraging. The sense of uncertainty – not knowing what tomorrow's class will bring - is keeping students very engaged," Mark Taylor said.

"This model requires a collaborative approach, but there is still much, much more we can do in this space. It will be great to see things open up even more," Vanessa said.

The four also agree that next year things will be somewhat easier, having travelled the road once already. But no-one is particularly looking for an "easy option".

According to his Head of School, Yannis adheres to the belief that we all need to be comfortable with a certain level of anxiety, stated recently at one of the school's research meetings.

"It pushes us to break out, think critically and be adaptable. These are vital values to creativity," Yannis said.

For more information on the course model, contact Yannis Zavoleas