DISSERTATION DEFENSE ANNOUNCEMENT Ed.D. Program Holly Grace Nelson: “Ways of Seeing: Design-Based Research on a Social Aspects of Design Class”
The purpose of this research is to investigate learning processes in a landscape architecture course designed to help students to assess the environment we live in more critically— to realize that people use space in different ways and to become aware that environments can either support or undermine people’s use of space (Anderson, 2015; CriadoPerez, 2020; Lynch, 1981; Mitchell & Breitbach, 2011; Sommer, 1969; Soja, 2009). A course called The Social and Cultural Aspects of Design was created to facilitate understanding of what makes a place inclusive.
Because much research on social justice learning concerns overall student experience rather than focusing on how students learned, this study asked how students describe their social justice learning in this course, focusing on effective course design principles. Five design principles linked educational theory to course design. These concern the impact of: structured critical reflection upon development of self-awareness, use of rational discourse to support perspectivesharing, use of a disruptive educational experience to dismantle normal ways of seeing, and taking action to make space more inclusive.
Using design-based research (Sandoval, 2004, 2014), I systematically explored how these design principles were related to student learning. This study tracked how five students learned to “see” spatial exclusion in a campus space. Student learning is explained in their own words. Course artifacts and activities (including student focus groups) and post-semester student interviews were coded according to five social justice themes (self-awareness, appreciating difference, understanding power, sensitivity to belonging, and taking action) and analyzed using the constant comparative method. Results provided support for all five design principles.
The transfer of learning from theory to practice is often difficult (Day & Goldstone, 2012; Derry, 2016). Social justice learning transfer can mean confronting personal and implicit biases which can be unconscious thoughts (Dirkx & Espinosa, 2017; Mälkki, 2019). Subconscious thoughts must become conscious to be reflected upon critically. One of my most important findings is that to help students to “see” that space can be exclusive, the course design must assist students with confronting subconscious biases. This became the sixth (and most important) design principle.
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