Rapid and ongoing global changes are forcing educators to consider how students can be supported to navigate these events successfully. Reports from the World Economic Forum (WEF 2018) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2018) highlight the need for developing learner and worker agency and for embedding curricula with projects that develop problem-solving skills; enable deep thinking and reflection; and focus on transferable skills, knowledge, attitudes and values. There is an ever-increasing need for knowledge-based practice in the design industry, and the value of design research in addressing cross-disciplinary challenges has been noted by several government agencies.
Within this context, the curricula of first degrees in interior design and exhibition design at the University of Lincoln (UK) were redeveloped in 2017. The decision was made to eliminate the 'contextual studies' stream and to replace it with a stream of modules focused on 'research practice'. While contextual studies consider the temporal understanding of the artefact; research practice is positioned as central to the design process and with greater potential to develop agency. Emphasis is placed on design entrepreneurship and critical practice through the rigorous documentation of, and reflection on, standard design products. This approach culminates in the identification and formulation of an appropriate design research project that is showcased in an exegesis.
This paper will describe and interpret the major informants to the curriculation process to evaluate the underpinnings of this decision.
By shifting the focus away from specific content to transferable processes, the curriculum is more flexible with greater opportunities for agency and co-production between staff and students. A focus on the research process, instead of the historical development of western aesthetics, is particularly important in postcolonial contexts where this ‘history’ is so far removed from the student’s habitus.
Keywords: agency, contextual studies, student as producer, research practice