Cognitive apprenticeship in architecture education: using a scaffolding tool to support conceptual design

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Modeled on the master-apprenticeship relationship, student designers gain access to implicit design knowledge mainly through the conversations with their tutors during studio projects. However, intimate design studio tutelage is being challenged by increasing student to staff ratios. If leveraged effectively, technology offers the potential to maximize tutors' time investment in order to allow them to tend to more students. Scaffolding tools (Reiser, 2004) as supplement to teacher support, can assist learners with complex tasks previously out of their reach. This case study is a critical realist inquiry into the use of a scaffolding tool, Cognician Cogs. It seeks to reveal the ways in which and circumstances under which these Cogs scaffold conceptual design in a second year architecture studio project. The study draws upon Cognitive Apprenticeship as a conceptual framework to shed light on design studio practices involving specially developed Cogs. The mixed methodology approach adopted consisting mainly of qualitative data in the form of the project brief, scaffolding tool content, sample design critique conversations and interviews with three tutors and nine students. Supplementary quantitative data included closed survey question responses and Studio work marks collected from the entire class (39). Thematic analysis of the qualitative data was framed by the Vitruvian guiding principles of architecture: 'Firmness', 'Commodity' and 'Delight'. The study revealed that the intended use of the Cogs to cover aspects of Firmness and Commodity only resulted in the over-scaffolding of Firmness and the under-scaffolding of Delight. The students' resulting designs were practically acceptable, but lacked novelty.