Exploring Active and Experiential Learning Mechanisms in Lecture based Courses in Architecture

Project: Projects from Previous Employment

Project Details


Recent discourse on built environment education asserts that a course mission should foster a learning environment that nurtures exploration and critical thinking. Today, inquiry and investigation are viewed as activities central to architectural pedagogy. This presents new opportunities for us as academics in architecture to strengthen our courses, to enhance our role in shaping architectural education, and to improve the quality of that education. Recent research on pedagogy indicates that the attention span of the average adult during a lecture is 8 to 10 minutes. Since most lectures are at least 50 minutes and some lectures are scheduled for up to two hours, there is a serious mismatch between our ability as educators to lecture nonstop and our students' ability to learn. Although some students learn best by listening, others have difficulty but find it easier to learn in more active learning environments. While architectural educators strive to impart the requisite knowledge necessary for successful practice, the way knowledge is transmitted has significant professional and social implications. Two major idiosyncrasies continue to characterize teaching practices of lecture based courses in architecture, which can be labeled as a) science as a body of knowledge versus science as a method of exploration and b) learning theories about the phenomena versus getting the feel of the behavior of the phenomena. Concomitantly, there is an urgent need to confront issues that pertain to the nature of reality (what) and the way in which knowledge about that reality is conveyed to future professionals (how) (3). Typically, in the educational process of architecture, links between undergraduate education, professional practice, and faculty research are often oversimplified; opportunities to enrich and strengthen undergraduate education through exposure to the research process are missed. This project advocates the integration of Inquiry Based Learning-IBL into architectural education by exposing students to primary source materials that enable them to get as close as possible to the realities being studied. Arguing for a new look at lecture-based courses in architecture, the project aims at developing and implementing an IBL mechanism in lecture based courses in architecture.” Based on action and experiential learning as forms of IBL, such a mechanism encompasses two structured components that relate to the content covered: a) a series of in-class tools that foster active/action learning in classroom settings, and b) a series of field based tools that promote the concept of “learning from the everyday environment.” Research Team: Ashraf Salama (Principal Investigator); Student Researchers: Amani Salem, Yasmin Jaber, and Mashael Al-jassim.

Key findings

As the title suggests this research is about inquiry and investigation and how they can be introduced in lecture based courses offered by the new department of architecture and urban planning. As a new department and with the introduction of this type of research, it sets the stage for introducing research activities, inquiry based learning, and critical thinking in the educational process, thereby contributing to cultivating a research culture. As future architects and building designers serving in the state of Qatar students will be able to develop a comprehensive understanding of research, research processes, selected tools, and the role of research in architectural design.

The contribution of this research goes beyond fostering a research culture within
Qatar, but also contributes to building a research culture in the discipline of architecture itself. The idiosyncrasies can be exemplified as follows: 1) Science as a body of knowledge versus science as a method of exploration: When teaching any body of knowledge, educators tend to present it as a body of facts and theories and as a process of scientific criticism. The processes that led up to this product are always hidden and internalized. There should be a distinction between the types of knowledge resulting from research in architecture and students should be made aware of them and experience them as well. First, knowledge that results from research that seeks to understand the future through a better understanding of the past, research that tests accepted ideas. Second, knowledge that results from research that develops new hypotheses and visions, research that probes new ideas and principles which will shape the future. 2) Learning theories about the phenomena versus getting the feel of the behavior of the phenomena: Knowledge is usually presented to students in a retrospective way where abstract and symbolic generalizations used to describe research results do not convey the feel of the behavior of the phenomena they describe (Schon 1988). The term retrospective here means extensive exhibition of the performance of the work of an architect over time.

The introduction of the IBL and its underlying active and experiential learning tools respond to the preceding issues and contribute toward building a clearer understanding of the role of knowledge and research in architecture. The Principal Investigator has been developing a wide variety of active, action, and experiential learning tools similar to the ones proposed for this project. However, they have not been clearly articulated to serve specific modules. Therefore, the value of the proposed exercises is that they will be designed and tailored to address key objectives and learning outcomes of a specific lecture based course.
Effective start/end date1/06/101/06/11


  • active learning
  • experience
  • architecture
  • urban environment