Learning Experiences

Sense of Engagement in Learning

Out of 20 students in the class, typically a group of 4 to 5 students were fully engaged in their learning process on a regular basis. The majority of students were functioning at “attend” or “comply” levels of learning. (Please refer to Human Choice Along a Continuum of Learning chart on page 8). Of course, there were a small group of students (1-3), who were at “disregard” level the majority of the time. However, with the shift of teaching methods, Walter noticed several students experienced greater levels of engagement on the continuum compared to previous performance. The disregard students were especially obvious and out of character during open discussion when they chose to volunteer different points of view on Victor Papanek. Students who were traditionally more compliant had a greater level of participation in the small groups compared to the disregard students. Students became more interested in investigating what Victor Papanek’s classroom was like, or how life experiences influenced his design work. The students openly related their own personal experience as developing designers to Victor’s experiences, influences, and points of view.

Ownership of Learning Outcomes

The human-centered process contributed to the students’ feeling of ownership of their learning outcomes. The materials were student selected, as opposed to traditional teacher-generated or text based. Groups, randomly selected, worked in teams, and prompted with the key open-ended questions. Each team was asked to “visualize on paper” an organizational structure that made collective sense as a group. Constraints were put in place to guide students while they selected topics, pulled together valuable information, and organized information in a meaningful way. Students with groups would often work as individuals, present their ideas to the team, organize their collective thoughts according to the assignment, and finally present the group’s work to the class to inform them of their findings. While engaging in class discussion, students often built upon group efforts to organize the top topics. Acting as the facilitator, Walter prompted his students to move onto the next step or responded as needed to student requests. Because the topics covered were the student’s choice, each learner experienced a sense of investment into the class and felt a sense of ownership of the topic and information.

Motivation to Learn and Collaborate

Traditionally, some students may have not felt they had a voice in a large class of 20. Working in independent small groups provided students with a scale where all could become motivated to learn and actively participate regardless of comfort level. The team approach enhanced the social relationships between classmates and developed a connection with individuals to a group. Students had opportunities to openly communicate, reflect on different points of view, acquire new knowledge, and collaborate on a meaningful topic. The groups tended to be self-regulating which allowed students the opportunity to monitor and select which the ideas went into the mix. The students developed a sense of pride in their learning process and interactions with classmates, which in turn raised the levels and quality of the work. When students had a question or needed clarification, all had the opportunity to voice their thoughts (micro-crowd sourcing). The students did most of the “heavy lifting” in answering the majority of questions that came up rather than depending on Walter to tell them the answer, which reduced the time drain on the instructor and elevated the confidence of the group. When groups presented their work or findings to the rest of the class, it required the students to reframe the concept to explain or teach others about their findings. Often the most outspoken student started the presentation; however, the shyer students had enough ownership, pride, and understanding to have the confidence to voluntarily help present the information to the entire class where previously they may not take such a step.

Teacher and Student Generated Questions



The teacher provided the four essential questions:

1)  Which 3 questions would you like to ask of Victor Papanek's former design students?

2)  Which 3 questions would you like to ask Victor Papanek himself?

3)  How would you characterize the importance of Victor Papanek's legacy?

4)  What influence will Victor Papanek's work have on your future design work?

The students generated their own questions as a result:

1)   How economically responsible, green, or universal design were Victor Papanek’s designs?

2)   What would be the environmental impact of his hit designs?

3)   What would Victor Papanek's goals be today if he were a young designer now?

4)   What would Victor’s insights, understandings, concerns, and messages be today, for example to balance aesthetics and ethics?

5)   What caused Victor to be the person he was (besides design, design school, etc), What drove him?


The shift in teaching methods resulted in several students shifted up in their levels of engagement

Students were provided a safe learning environment to collaborate and openly share their ideas and questions


Students showed increased evidence of ownership of their learning process and outcomes

Groups were randomly selected, teams were guided to ensure students were on track and prompted by open-ended questions

Learning patterns consisted of individual thinking first, followed by team presentations, and then whole class

Students interacting as a whole class often built upon group efforts

Walter acted as a facilitator to prompt and guide students with their choices

Students were invested in their learning experience


Shy students were more likely to participate in small groups and open class discussions

Students who previously would comply or disregarded instruction, became attentive and engaged in the curriculum, content, and discussion

The team approach enhanced social relationships between classmates and developed a connection with individuals to a group

Groups tended to be self-regulating which allowed students the opportunity to monitor and select which ideas went into the mix