Enhancing Critical Thinking Through “Independent Design Decision Making” in the Studio

Mallika Bose, Eliza Pennypacker, Thomas George Yahner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (SciVal)


A group of faculty at Penn State's Department of Landscape Architecture observed that the traditional master/apprentice model of studio instruction fosters greater student dependence on faculty for decision-making guidance than the faculty considers desirable. They contend that this traditional model promotes a studio dynamic that encourages students to look to the professor for design ideas and wait for faculty approval before making design decisions. The faculty considered this decision-making dependency to be in conflict with the need for students to develop the critical-thinking skills required to address the complex and ill-structured problems that are common in architecture and landscape architecture. In response to their concern this faculty team developed a studio teaching method they termed “independent design decision-making.” They speculated that by transferring the responsibility for design decisions from professor to the student, students could improve their critical thinking and gain confidence in design decision-making. The faculty conceived a set of strategies to implement in a 3rd year team-taught site planning and design studio that presents a range of complex design issues and scales. In collaboration with Penn State's Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, the faculty researchers developed a 2-year comparative study to test this new teaching method in the same design studio with two consecutive student groups-evaluating the strategies implemented in the first year, refining methods, then applying and re-evaluating the results in the next year's class. These new strategies included ways students receive information to inspire their designs (“input strategies”) and ways to receive critique on their design ideas (“feedback strategies”). Two evaluation instruments were chosen to assess this method of studio teaching: 1) the Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT), and 2) Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG). This paper presents this teaching/learning method and reports on the results of the comparative study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-42
Number of pages10
JournalOpen House International
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Architecture
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies


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