Recipe: Studio model: The Chunky studio

This recipe follows on from the first #DistanceDesignEd discussion, where we spent a bit of time talking about chunks of learning. A chunk is an informal term for a piece of learning and teaching that is easily packaged to make it: easy to understand as a whole; relatively quick to complete; with a clear outcome at the end of it.

In design terms, you could think of a chunk as a mini design method – it’s a short process you follow, adapting it as necessary as you go, in order to make progress with something.

In distance learning we use chunks a lot because we know that we won’t be there to guide students with far more complex and convoluted sets of instructions (Note that I mean complex in terms of explaining the learning – not complex brief or complex client instructions – these can be chunked in themselves!)

This is a studio based on chunks: weekly, daily and activity chunks (more on chunks in another post – see the here). And that means it can be converted relatively easily to a distance and online version.

Serve to:
Lecturers and students who have just been told to “go online”

Prep: 3-4 hours
Activity: 3-5 days

Low – should be no more than



  • A week long project or activity (with spare time for circumstances)
  • An asynchronous group communication method (email list; messaging service; Social Media group)
  • A synchronous group communication method with whiteboard
  • A Virtual Design Studio (VDS) using a repository-based service, like Padlet, Mural, or
  • Students with low-moderate internet access



  • Set a one week design challenge – something like a mini-project, extended activity or a design stage goal. It has to be something that has a realistic 5-day turnaround given circumstances.
  • Sketch out a curriculum / process, including activities that have a high degree of flexibility in terms of activity type and timings. Include:
    • 2 or 3 ideas for activities or design process stages
    • Regular (daily) uploads to the online studio space
    • Check-in points for you and students – ideally an interim meetup as part of the process or a pastoral check-in session
  • Prepare a brief based on the above to use as instructions/prompt for students, focusing on outputs and key stages. Send this to all participants in advance.

Here’s an example of a generic 5 day intensive short creative studio (Synchronous chunks are solid colour fill; dotted outlines indicate flexible timing allowances; arrows indicate uploads :

(You can find the above diagram here, free to use, re-use, adapt, whatever)

Start the week

  1. Start the week by having a synchronous meetup to discuss the 1 Week Design Challenge using your brief as the artefact of discussion.
  2. Treat it like a design studio meetup and be open to changing your plan based on student feedback and circumstances.
  3. Live note your session (e.g. use Google Docs) to share the project schedule and give instant feedback and notes to the group. Or use a shared whiteboard. Share your notes in your VDS if possible (using the VDS yourself is a good exemplar of behaviour).

Activity chunk:

  1. Students undertake daily activities independently (physically, digitally, or blended) and these should be flexible in terms of content and time to allow work over a period of time (e.g. an activity that could be completed in an hour set over a 5 hour period).
  2. Use asynchronous messages to remind students of each activity. Keep your communication short – the aim is to keep the design process going (not check up or direct or control).
  3. For each activity, students upload an output from the activity to the VDS. This can be anything that suits the activity but visual artefacts with short text are good to make submission easier and to encourage peer interaction.

Studio Check-ins

  1. Key to this chunking are studio check-ins, where students look at other students’ work in the VDS regularly (either after uploading theirs, as a first-thing activity each day, or both!)
  2. Comment on students’ uploads and encourage students to comment on each others work too. If the repository you’re using doesn’t support commenting very well, use another method (e.g. VLE forums or social media).
  3. If it’s relevant, provide a commenting rubric or guide to help students provide constructive criticism, possibly focusing on the week goal.

Interim submission

  1. At some point during the week, hold a synchronous check-in to bring the group back together.
  2. If you’re running a design process, make this an interim stage or part of the process (e.g. a Client check-in) and provide feed-forward aimed to work towards the final presentation.
  3. Otherwise, hold it an informal peer feedback session.
  4. Alternatively, if your process doesn’t really need a synchronous check-in, you could check-in with individual students depending on activity.
  5. Pastoral Check: At some point in the week do a check on your students to see how they are doing. Check their activity in the studio and make contact if necessary.

End of the week

  1. End the studio with a submission to the VDS (to suit the brief)
  2. Hold a synchronous feedback session and run this to suit your curriculum, for example:
    1. Peer discussion and feedback
    2. Structured feedback using specific rubric / themes
    3. Simulated client feedback session
    4. Simulated design studio session
  3. Have students to look back at their work in the VDS and reflect on the design process itself – how their work developed over time.
  4. Hold a close-out session to bring all the feedback together and get feedback on the activity itself. This is better as a synchronous session but can be done asynchronously if you use a suitable form.
  5. Finally, provide feed-forward to students to help them focus on future work and specific actions they might take in the next studio

Notes and tips:
Using and external design brief / client and taking part in the process yourself can work (depending on your students’ stages)

Remember: You don’t have to be there for learning (or even designing) to take place. Trust your students to get on with stuff!

Published by Derek Jones

Derek Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Design at The Open University (UK), part of the OU Design Group, and the Convenor of the DRS Pedagogy SIG. His main research interests are: the pedagogy of design and creativity, embodied cognition in physical and virtual environments, and theories of design knowledge.

One thought on “Recipe: Studio model: The Chunky studio

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: