Constructivist Learning Theory in Virtual Design Studios

Constructivist Learning Theory in Virtual Design Studios

Leman Figen Gül (TOBB University of Economics and Technology, Turkey), Anthony Williams (University of Newcastle, Australia) and Ning Gu (University of Newcastle, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-180-1.ch009
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In the authors’ design teaching, they have been employing virtual world technologies, allowing students the capacity to collaborate and design within a constructivist immersive design platform such as Second Life ( and Active Worlds ( These environments support synchronous design communication and real-time 3D modelling. Particularly, 3D immersive design environments have the potential to make a major contribution to design education as constructivist learning environments. Based on authors’ teaching experience and the students’ learning experience, this chapter discusses 3D virtual world as constructivist learning environments that support team-based design and communication skill-building and presents the challenges faced by design education today. The chapter firstly provides a critical analysis of various design learning and teaching features offered in 3D virtual worlds as constructivist learning environments, secondly, identifies a number of key issues in addressing engagement and interaction in virtual design learning, thirdly, addresses the core skills and cognitive processes of designing in 3D virtual worlds, and finally, provides several strategies for the facilitation of virtual worlds as the constructivist design teaching platform.
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1. Introduction

Recently the developments in and extensive use of internet technologies have brought about fundamental changes in the way designers practice and collaborate. This has led to the transformation of their organizations through implementation of higher levels of IT-based strategies. In response to these changing trends in design practice, design schools have been using these advanced information and communication technologies in design curricula. Design education is concerned with teaching theory and applications in the design of artefacts that could occupy human activities. Historically, schools of architecture taught “descriptive geometry” (Lee and Reekie 1949), based on an Euclidean understanding of form and space. The revolution of the paper making technology in the fifteenth century can be considered as the “application” that enabled “the intellectualization of buildings”, leading the notion of architecture as we know it today (Kvan et al. 2004). Innovative approaches to design education should consider the impact of computer technologies on creating “new ways of designing” (Kvan et al. 2004) and integrating digital skills (craft) and design thinking (art) (Kvan et al. 2004; Gül et al. 2007).

In relation to this view, 3D virtual worlds offer many opportunities for design teaching and learning, the most known of which is the support for constructivist learning. There are approaches which integrate the emerging fields of digital design into design education, such as employing parametric design, interaction design, experiential design, graphic design, product design, etc. Although these studies use new technologies in design education, there is still a general lack of research and practice which explores the potential of design teaching in 3D virtual worlds as constructivist learning environments. Perkins (1991) classified constructivist paraphernalia including information banks, symbol pads, construction kits and task managers. According to Perkins, computational tools facilitate human memory and intelligence to interpret experience and to refine mental models. Thus computer-supported constructivist learning environments focus on how representations and applications can mediate interactions among learners and natural or social phenomena (Dede 1995).

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