Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Supporting learning in art and design studios

In traditional atelier models at their best, students work alongside ‘master’ practitioners (not always men, but people who have gained mastery of their subjects) and learn from them in the studio by watching their practices, emulating and modifying them, and finding inspiration from being in the company of acknowledged experts. Interaction with experts can provide opportunities for informal guidance and feedback, leading to personal advancement in capabilities and understanding. However, at their worst, in studios students commonly complain that they are left to their own devices, feeling ignored by their tutors and receiving scathing, negative and damaging feedback (if any) on their own practical efforts.

Good practice in studio teaching can involve making the most of available space, carefully considering the nature of interactions and using appropriate assessment by:
  • Emulating the kinds of contexts graduates will encounter when they leave university and providing well-equipped and state-of-the-art facilities where students can hone their capabilities.
  • Fostering interaction between students and staff, and students with one another, so that a community of learners is established in the studio.
  • Fairly sharing time between students as far as is possible, so that each student feels capable of seeking guidance as necessary and there is no perceived favouritism among the cohort.
  • Balancing offers of support and guidance with enabling students to work uninterrupted with high levels of concentration on their own practice.
  • Working one-to-one and with the whole group as appropriate to share practical techniques and critical perspectives.
  • Discussing terms such as ‘creativity’, ‘criticality’, ‘originality’ so that students develop their own understandings of what these mean for them in practice.
  • Offering feedback during the production of artefacts rather than just at the end, to help students shape their individual practices.
  • Commenting within feedback on the work produced and the behaviours demonstrated rather than the personality of the individual student working in the studio, and using language which enables development rather than what David Boud describes as ‘final language’ which gives students nowhere to go: (‘hopeless’, ‘useless’, ‘awful’, ‘inadequate’).
  • Recording informal and formal feedback so that it doesn’t get lost or ignored in the heat of the moment. It is possible to provide audio or video records of in-studio conversations or to ask students to provide paper or electronic write-ups of the guidance they have received for checking against the tutor’s recall of the key points of discussions.
  • Providing a wide diversity of examples of artefacts that have received good marks, so students can get a clear picture of the standard of work required, without suggesting that these comprise the full range of potential creative responses.
  • Enabling students to interrogate what assessment criteria really mean through discussion and rehearsal, ideally including some guided peer review.


Brown, S. (2015) Chapter 5 of Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives, London: Palgrave.