Constructing our Reality

Last week I got to talk with a group of 60+ architecture students and faculty about design thinking, student development theory, and my Fulbright research… as well as how they connect to what we do in our department at Hampton University.  Moments like these help us reflect on what we are.  I hope they will also encourage my compatriots to explore ideas about what we want to become.

My current research is situated in the constructivist paradigm.  What does that mean?

Well, my research ideas and techniques are founded on the principle that we humans construct the world around us — including the things we see and touch, how we know, and what we know — and that we are able to generate new knowledge.

By discussing such topics, and considering collectively what it means to “design” and to “know” and to “learn,” we can become more international, purposeful, and effective in the things we do each day.

One of our students, Rhama Mohammed, snapped some photos during the talk and loaded them into our Facebook page (I’m posting copies here).  This provides a little glimpse of our department’s reality… surrounded by teachers (unfortunately, we don’t have images of any students in the crowd)… and a highly animated presenter.

After the Lecture Lights Dim (or, What’s Your Paradigm?)

The “Schools of Thought” lecture series is providing me lots of “food for thought.” It’s being conducted on Tuesday evenings by the fourth and fifth year Architecture studios at the DIT.

Last night Mark Price spoke. He teaches first year Architecture students to draw at University College Dublin (UCD). Create Ireland describes him as “an architect, teacher and writer. He works with the Save 16 Moore Street Committee, the Irish Anti-War Movement and the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.”

At last night’s lecture, Mark spoke on the topic of the Architecture “Crit.” He discussed how unequal power relationships that are inherent in the Crit format both define and limit our profession.

Overall, he was quite critical of the way Crits are conducted.

I am fascinated by this particular topic–I’ve done some research on students’ view of assessment activities like the Crit.  I did this work with Michael Seymour at the University of Mississippi, who just won a national teaching award. The paper we wrote, Assessment Formats: Student Preferences and Perceptions was published in the International Journal of Learning. It even won a research award from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

During Q&A session that followed Mark’s lecture last night, DIT lecturer Dominic Stevens argued in favor of the Crit format.  I chimed in about what Michael Seymour and I had found.  I was trying to contribute ideas for giving students feedback in more humane ways. These are techniques that my colleagues and I use at Hampton University–and that our students responded very positively about when surveyed for the Assessment Formats paper.

After the lecture wrapped up last night, a group of us headed to the Black Sheep Inn “for a pint” and to continue discussing philosophy, architecture, and revolutionary politics.

Mark Price, Dominic Stevens, and Jim Roche deep in discussion at the Black Sheep Inn. Brian Ward and I chimed in, too!

What I have found in Ireland is that the political center is quite farther left than at home in the States. This holds true off campus as well as on.

I also find that I enjoy hearing these divergent points of view.  It’s a refreshing change to our two-party, little-choice state of affairs in the USA.

The biggest difference among those gathered over ale last night is that I typically conduct my research from the interpretivist (and sometimes constructivist) paradigm–an observational and participatory stance–whereas the other folks I met with are quite active politically.  They are working hard to change things and make the world a more just place. They want to create big-scale change in the world and they are critical of the way things operate.

A professor at the University of Western Cape explains my stance: “Epistemologically, an interpretive researcher is empathetic in nature. The researcher would put him/herself in the shoes of the participant in order to comprehend more effectively. The researcher seeks to recognize the participant’s understanding of situations (Henning, 2005).” This is what I am trying to do in my research project for JEE.

Danna Carballo describes their stance: “Critical theories share some ideas of the interpretative paradigm, but what makes it different is that critical paradigm focuses on oppression. …They believe there are some groups who benefit from oppressing others, so their main jobs are to point out the existing contradictions, in order to help people be aware of what is really going on, and create new forms of language that will enable predominant ideology to be exposed and competing ideologies to be heard.” Mark definitely took this stance in his lecture. His point was that the Crit format oppresses students and reinforces traditionally-desired power arrangements.

With that, I can clearly agree!