Recipe: The Blackboard studio model

This recipe was inspired by a discussion with Steve Rigley (@s_rigley) and a studio model he and colleague Jo Petty used to maintain at the Glasgow School of Art. Central to the general studio in graphic design was The Blackboard. A real blackboard, by the way. With chalk.

The Blackboard became the central organising technology for the general studio curriculum. It was a single point of contact and information, responsive and agile to update if the studio ‘needed’ it, and it helped act as a focus for a community of practice between students and tutors.

This recipe outlines a way you could try this online. (NOTE – we haven’t had the chance to test this properly yet, only prototype. So if anyone does try it, let us know how you get and what type of recipe you made with it.)

Serve to:
Studio-based students able to design their own process and work independently.

Check-in: 20-30 minutes each week
Additional time dependent on studio

Low – should be no more than normal studio depending on which service you choose.

Difficulty: Low / Moderate
Connection: Low bandwidth / mainly asynchronous


  • A project, portfolio, or open studio curriculum.
  • A single online place (URL/weblink or service) that will become The Blackboard.
  • A Virtual Design Studio (VDS) or image sharing service/repository.
  • (Optional) An asynchronous group communication method (email list; messaging service; Social Media group).
  • (Optional) A synchronous group communication method with whiteboard



  • Set up an online space with a single location (weblink/URL) as The Blackboard. What is critical is that The Blackboard is a key orientation point for students, so it should be:
    • a single place to get information
    • a place where only the most important information is communicated
    • updated regularly and predictably,
    • consistent in structure or content
    • Top Tip: An online tool that helps you can create a single page summary (no scroll, links to other info.).
  • The mode you choose for The Blackboard is critical to meet these conditions and you should start with whatever you feel most comfortable with. Have a look at the following tools:
    • A workflow tool like Trello;
    • A workspace tool like Mural.
    • A web page or blog you can edit directly (and easily) like WordPress
    • An actual blackboard, whiteboard or piece of paper, digital camera and online image service/repository

You can find examples of all 4 of these Blackboards at the end of this recipe.

Running the studio

  1. Check-in. Have a regular (e.g. Monday morning) check-in where students access and check the Blackboard for the week’s activity.
    • Take feedback and questions from students on The Blackboard plan for the week. Update the Blackboard as necessary and notify students of any major updates.
    • This can be done asynchronously (forum, messaging board, SMS, app – e.g. set aside 1 hour for Questions on WhatsApp or SMS) or synchronously (web conferencing; online meeting service; phone in – e.g. hold a Blackboardwhiteboard session).
  2. Studio. During the week, students work largely independently and offline but should have regular check-in points to either check The Blackboard; share work on the VDS; or met as a group for planned feedback points.
  3. Community. Encourage peer-peer contact during this work in whatever way suits the studio and group best (e.g. the VDS; social media; forum; anything). Remember that having multiple options and choices here is OK – just as it is in normal studio.
  4. Resources. Use The Blackboard to share, host and distribute any other material that supports students work in a week: links, reading, online tools, shared work, etc. This is ‘focused sharing’ around the week’s studio, distinct from any other normal sharing that might take place in the VDS.
  5. Support. The check-in point(s) are good opportunities to make contact with any students you feel might need support. Holding an end of week session can be useful to bring things to a close for students too – hold open and dialogic feedback on their work and yours (the design of the studio!).
  6. Social. Use The Blackboard to host more than curriculum matters – it should be a social thing too. For example, Steve’s original blackboard also advertised the winner of the Your Desk is Mingin’ weekly award for the messiest studio desk. This is most definitely still possible online… Similarly, if your students are planning a meetup or event then let them share that too.

Notes and tips:
As Steve observed as we discussed this recipe, ‘the studio is more like a village‘. So keep it human.


Here are examples of Blackboards using different modes:

  1. A Trello board:
  2. WordPress page:
  3. An actual Blackboard (OK, my blackboard’s in the office so it’s an A4 piece of paper – if it does the job, it’s goo enough!):
A photo of a sketch schedule divided into days and activities.

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.

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