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Exploring participatory learning beyond the Institution



Engaged practices of participatory design and socially-constructed models of learning both value experience and interaction, recognising that understanding alternative perspectives can elicit deeper insights and create a rich culture of openness and exchange for those involved. Participatory design attempts to re-position passive research participants towards active contributors in addressing societal challenges. Similarly, academia recognises the pedagogical value of industry and community engagement, to inform and influence practices and provide students with real-world experience.
However, this approach is structured to fit within Western, neoliberal ideologies. Critical reflection is required to speculate about possible pluralistic futures, and the design studio can offer such a space. Re-aligning with a sense of collective responsibility through the engagement of external voices, design education can encourage creativity, promote criticality and importantly challenge current thinking and speculate on alternatives.
This paper explores ‘live’ design projects to understand better how such socially-constructed models of learning can challenge and extend the margins of mainstream discourse. Reflecting on the recent pivot to models of online, distributed and distanced design education as a response to COVID-19, this paper considers how participatory learning might enable the transformation of knowing that extends beyond the institution.
Keywords: design education; external engagement; participatory design; learning;

About the Author

Leigh-Anne Hepburn is a design researcher with a focus on design-enabled collaboration to inform and influence meaningful change. Her work explores socially-driven innovation at the intersections of industry, academia and community and she is particularly interested in how vulnerable and isolated populations can be supported and enabled to co-design new models of engaging and interacting in the world. Leigh-Anne’s research traverses transdisciplinary participation, engagement and activism, with a particular focus on policy, ethics, and health.
Leigh-Anne has previously taught at community, corporate, undergraduate and postgraduate levels and currently teaches design theory and culture, exploring how plural practices and discourses can inform the discipline and engage a new cohort of future-thinkers.Having moved to Australia from Scotland after a period of political change in the UK that saw Scotland’s failed bid for independence and the UK’s departure from the European Union, Leigh-Anne is acutely aware of historical and contemporary notions of colonisation in both contexts. She believes that design and in particular design education has a role to play in the reformation of the structures that dominate this discourse, to engender new ways of seeing, being, thinking and doing.

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