Teaching and Learning Forum 2006 Home Page

Category: Professional practice
Teaching and Learning Forum 2006 [ Refereed papers ]
REC [Research, Experience, Capture]: A study tour of self directed exploration

Khoa Do and Adelyn Siew
Department of Architecture and Interior Architecture
Curtin University of Technology

Study tours are not uncommon in the architecture and interior architecture courses. They have been traditionally used as a teaching and learning tool to help students better understand certain periods in architectural history. However, we report on a model that we have been developing in the Department of Architecture and Interior Architecture at Curtin University of Technology that takes architecture and interior architecture students out of their traditional learning environment to be totally immersed in an architectural, cultural and social context which they have not learnt in their core units. Students who go on the REC[Research, Experience, Capture] study tour undertake pre-tour, during tour and post-tour activities that help them perform a self-directed exploration into a new context. These include a language lesson, team sessions, mini-conference, forum and exhibition. Students were also involved in putting a publication together as part of the REC tour. Student feedback has been very positive, naming networking, development of visual recording skills and team building skills as some of the benefits.

Study tours have long been a useful and effective teaching and learning tool in architecture. Its history reaches back to the 19th century where young apprentices would travel, on what is referred to as the Grand Tour, to visit architectural sites to better appreciate and understand the beauty and concepts behind a particular style. Often, these apprentices would work under a master craftsman or architect to learn the required skills. For young aspiring architects, these tours provided exposure to otherwise inaccessible works of architecture. Distance is no longer a barrier in the present day. Students gain a satisfactory understanding of architecture through books, visual media and the internet. However, the knowledge that students gain from study tours are unattainable within the confines of a classroom. In most architectural courses, study tours are offered as a credited elective unit. In Australia, many international study tours are to Europe or the Americas because of their rich architectural heritage that students learn about in the course of their study. These study tours are often very expensive, limiting accessibility to only a small percentage of the student population. At Curtin University of Technology, we recognise the value of experiential education gained from study tours and have been providing our architecture and interior architecture students with study tour options with varying costs to open the opportunity to a larger portion of the student population.

This paper discusses a recent study tour that has significantly improved the study tour framework within the department. First, we describe its development, its objectives, and assessments. Then, we consider the advantages and disadvantages of particular activities of the study tour, such as the student forum and exhibitions, and provide student evaluation on their experience. Last, we offer some insight into student feedback and our thoughts on the most important element of a successful study tour.

The REC [Research, Experience, Capture] study tour framework

The work on the REC [Research, Experience, Capture] study tour framework began in 2004 when we decided to put together an architectural study tour of Vietnam. When we first thought of organising the study tour, we had two main aims. Firstly, the study tour was to be an opportunity for developing skills for self-directed learning (SDL). Undergraduate students within the department are suddenly thrown into SDL in their last semester when they write their thesis. We felt that the study tour could provide a taste of SDL to better prepare students for what is often a disorientating experience when they are given the reigns in that last semester. Much has been written on SDL in the literature with varying definitions of SDL (Caffarella, 2000; CarrŽ, 2000; Gerber, Lankshear, Larsson & Svensson, 1995; Hammond & Collins, 1991). However, they all share similar elements of self-responsibility in the development, execution and evaluation of their individual learning experience. Knowles defined SDL as
... a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes. (1975, p. 18)
As the students had no experience of SDL, some concessions had to be made. Prior to the study tour, students were asked to consider what they wanted to learn from the study tour. The following are excerpts from two student journals:
I aim to find a sense of self drive by the end of this trip. And hopefully a new ability to communicate my ideas.

I wish to use this experience to broaden my horizons both as a person and as an architect. I hope to improve my recording skills-sketching, photographing and analysing. I hope to gather an understanding of the people, the culture, the food, the lifestyle, the history and how the architecture is influenced by all these factors.

General guidelines and assessments had to be set up to ensure that students did not lack direction. These are detailed in the next section.

Secondly, the study tour was to create opportunities for peer mentoring. The study tour was offered as an elective in all three courses within the department: the Bachelor of Applied Science (Architectural Science), the Bachelor of Architecture and the Bachelor of Arts (Interior Architecture). This opened the study tour to students from varying stages of their architectural study as electives are offered at different years in the three courses. Peer mentoring in a tertiary education environment has been widely discussed in the literature (Treston, 1999; Topping & Ehly, 1998; Terenzini & Wright, 1987). Although most of the literature discuss peer mentoring occurring in a formalised programme, we felt that the semi-formal nature of a study tour would be advantageous as social interactions could occur naturally and relationships could be formed.

With these two main aims in mind, we set about gathering information from colleagues who had organised past study tours and spoke with students who had participated in them. This provided us with valuable information regarding logistics of organising study tours as well as student expectations. One of the most constructive feedbacks was gained from our conversations with students. We found that they appreciated study tours with structured time allocation, assessments and contact with staff during the tour. The students revealed that even though study tours with less structure meant that they had more 'fun', they gained little knowledge from tours that had weak aims and direction. On the other hand, they wanted more freedom to engage not only with the visited sites but also with the people to gain a holistic understanding of the sites. This feedback emphasises the importance of 'academic integrity' of a study tour as recommended by Porth (1997, p. 191).

The lack of knowledge about Vietnamese architecture among the students became a big impetus in the formation of the study tour's academic framework. It was imperative for students to gain some understanding of the country and its architecture before leaving on the tour. With that in mind and Porth's (1997) suggestion of a three phase approach, we decided the aims of the study tour to be in three categories: research, experience and capture. The following sections detail the aims of the study tour along with its corresponding activities.

Research (pre-departure)

The general lack of knowledge among the students about Vietnam meant that we had to provide students with clear direction prior to the tour. Students were gathered for two pre-departure meetings in which they were introduced to the aims and objectives of the study tour. In the first meeting, students were separated into teams of four with leadership responsibilities given to students from the upper years to create peer-mentoring opportunities. They were given three pre-departure tasks: first, familiarise themselves with the country's history, geography, culture and architecture; second, determine an interest area to focus on while on tour; and third, to produce two A3 posters each of their best design project. These tasks could be performed as a group or individually, as decided by the team.

In the second meeting, they were given a language lesson, covering basic conversational Vietnamese; and a study guide, in the form of an A5 booklet, which contained information such as the unit outline, travel itinerary, brief language dictionary, important contact details and travel advice. It was also an opportunity for the teams to meet and discuss their individual focus areas. Students were also informed of the assessments of the study tour: a journal recording their observations and experiences; and four A3 posters, focusing on their interest area, to be produced during the last few days of the tour.

It was in these meetings that we introduced the students to the two significant events that would occur during the tour: a mini-conference to be held at the Architecture University of Ho Chi Minh City (AUHCMC) and an exhibition of the students' work at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) Vietnam's new Saigon South campus.

A secondary pre-departure task we had to perform was to gain sponsorship from various parties. Through sponsorships, drawing supplies for the students on tour were provided for and monetary support gained through these sponsorships helped to alleviate the cost of the tour. As the study tour was announced a year before departure, students were informed of the cost involved and set about saving funds. This timeframe of a year also allowed students on scholarships to go through the application process for extra funds.

Experience (on tour)

Porth (1997) suggests that structure and process are the keys to maintaining a learning experience in the on-site phase of a study tour. From the onset, we wanted the learning atmosphere of the study tour to be relaxed and informal. It was important that the students felt that we were accessible and approachable as our role on the study tour was more of facilitators than teachers because the main aim was to give students the SDL experience. At the start of the paper, we mentioned that students valued a balance between structured time allocations, contact with staff and 'free' time. We achieved this balance through the creation of an informal routine. Meal times, site visits, time on the tour bus were opportunities for students to meet with us or their team members. In between site visits, students were encouraged to explore, engage with the people and absorb the atmosphere of the town or city we were in. No site visits or formal activities were scheduled after dinner but students could arrange to see us if needed. Often these meetings were informal and impromptu which helped break down communication barriers and create a good rapport between students and staff.

Mini-conference at Architecture University of Ho Chi Minh City

The mini-conference was held on day two of the tour. It was a chance for the Vietnamese students and students on tour to gain insight into differing manners of architectural education, not only through the presentations by staff and students from both universities but also through the exhibition of student work from both Curtin University and AUHCMC. As part of the mini-conference, a panel of three Australian architects working in Ho Chi Minh City provided perceptive understanding of architectural practice in Vietnam. This mini-conference provided students with a good introduction to the architectural sites they were about to experience during the study tour. The experiences and information gained from the members of the forum panel increased their sensitivity to the local social and economic contexts. This sensitivity can be seen through the entries in their student journals written during the tour:
It's the complete chaos of the cities: its materials, design and function that make them so aesthetically attractive.... Saigon's streets are a mix of ideologies, ideals, function and aesthetic.

The buildings on the road are defined by a lifestyle and government. Are the 20m x 4m lots purely because of town planning of has it become more of an issue with sharing the street? The tiny 4m frontages allow for the optimum amount of people to have street frontage, and it's the tiny street frontage that defines the architecture.

The population live well below the poverty line. But as is life and the people are still beautiful, peaceful and happy despite making do with what they have seems to be what they do best. The makeshift styles in their architecture show a creativity in design and use. Roofs are patched with stray bits of metal, holes covered with advertising signs and in the country, entire houses are created with timber felled from around the site and lashed together in crude yet effective ways.

Student journals

Undoubtedly, academic reflection is an essential part of learning. In architecture and interior architecture education, it is also an important tool for establishing an architectural position. Therefore, it was important that the students were engaged in a process of recording and reflection inherent in maintaining a student journal. In the context of the REC study tour, students were asked to use their journals to visually record their experiences. Though not a requirement, the students were encouraged to take the journals as an opportunity to further develop their own individual recording skills. Figure 1 is of a student who decided to supplement her sketching with notes. Figure 2 is a journal page from a student who relied on daily journaling and photography. These two examples are only a snippet of a wide variety of methods employed in the student journals. Most students began their journals experimenting with different methods. However, we found that towards the end of the journals, many had found a personal forte-photography, a particular style of sketching or journaling-and developed that skill further.


Figure 1: Sketching and note taking

Figure 2

Figure 2: Journaling and photography

Using the entries in their student journals, each student was asked to design a 150x100mm postcard and four A3 posters. This exercise continued the student's academic reflection through the process of editing and refining information that they had collected in order to formalise and assemble it into a clear and graphic presentation. The mode of visual presentations is such that the various facets of research undertaken by the student-topic, theory, methodology, limitation and outcome- is presented in a visually engaging manner. Many students found this exercise of recording in a journal and producing the postcards and posters very helpful particularly because the study tour took them on a nineteen-day journey through ten urban centres in Vietnam. The journal was a quick way of recording a scene or documenting feelings, thoughts and experiences that would not have been captured with a camera.

REC publication and exhibition at RMIT Vietnam Saigon South

We felt that it was important for the study tour to have a finale and a sense of closure. This was achieved through a publication about the study tour and the REC exhibition at RMIT Vietnam. The publication, REC[record] Vietnam: Research, experience, capture (Do & Siew, 2005), is a box set consisting of two parts: a booklet and the student postcards. Before leaving on the study tour, we designed, edited and published the booklet. Eight writers involved in architectural education and professional practice were invited to contribute their reflections on a range of topics: learning and the study tour; architectural research; and architectural practice in South East Asia. The second part of the publication was the postcards produced by the students at the end of the tour. These postcards encapsulated the various interest areas of the students and provided for a snapshot of their experiences. These postcards furnished the publication with the colours and flavour of Vietnam.

To help the students produce the postcard and posters, RMIT Vietnam generously gave them unlimited access to their computer facilities for two days. As we foresaw this need, we had made this special arrangement with RMIT Vietnam when we first approached them to use their new Saigon South campus building for an exhibition of the student posters.

The exhibition at RMIT Vietnam's Saigon South campus was held on the last day of the tour. The architect of the RMIT Vietnam's Saigon South campus, Professor Norman Day of RMIT Melbourne, opened the exhibition with a lecture on his own thoughts and experiences of practising in Vietnam. Professor Day was also able to provide reassurance and insight to the various topics explored by the students. His critique and assessment of the work reflected on three key issues: sensitivity by the students to the context of Vietnam, the diversity in the modes of recording and the sophisticated articulation of the research.

We not only wanted to showcase the work done by the students during the study tour but also to make the exhibition an event where students could form international networks (Figure 3). The guest list consisted of staff from RMIT Vietnam, lecturers from AUHCMC, local and expatriate architects, and students from both AUHCMC and RMIT Vietnam. These networks have proven to be successful with some students opting to take leave of absence from their studies to gain some working experience in Vietnam for a period of six to twelve months at a number of architectural firms in Ho Chi Minh City in 2006.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Creating international networks at the REC exhibition, RMIT Vietnam.

Capture (post-tour)

According to Porth's (1997) model, the last phase of the study tour should help integrate and reinforce the experiences of the study tour. In light of that, we organised an exhibition at Curtin University. The exhibition was of all the student work done during the study tour. This included their journals, exhibition posters for the mini-conference, the exhibition posters for the exhibition at RMIT Vietnam, the postcards of REC[record] Vietnam: Research, experience, capture (Do & Siew, 2005) and video recordings of the study tour. Essentially, this exhibition captured the learning experiences of the students on the study tour. At the opening of the exhibition, the students were able to share their experiences through informal floor talks with other staff members and students who did not participate in the study tour (Figure 4). Through these conversations, the students were able to recall their journey and re-evaluate knowledge they had gathered during the study tour. This post-tour exhibition provided an opportunity for us and the students to witness the learning and personal growth of each student through their journals and posters. After the exhibition, the students commented that they were surprised at the amount of knowledge they had gathered along the way. Some were even amazed at their own development and the maturing of their recording skills when looking back through their journals.

Figure 4

Figure 4: A student of the study tour having a conversation about his journal and posters with a staff member during the opening of the exhibition at Curtin University.

Reflections on the REC study tour model

The positive response from the post-tour exhibition was encouraging. Many commented on the intensity both in the physical journey but also of the experiential learning of the students. Student feedback given voluntarily to us was equally positive.
Our group covered a lot of kilometres and even when I recount stories of the trip to my Vietnamese friends locally, most of them are awed at what we managed to achieve. All in all it was hectic, great fun, productive, even inspirational and definitely an experience I will never forget.
Some students commented that the study tour was at times physically taxing due to the area it covered but they all agreed that they had gained invaluable experiences and knowledge. Many commented on their improved skills in drawing and sketching. Others reflected on their deepened architectural and cultural understanding. Most of the students achieved the goals they had set out for themselves at the start of the tour; achieving the goals of SDL. For us, it was very rewarding to see that the students acquired a greater awareness of who they are as a person and as a future architect or interior architect. One of the most important elements to the success of the REC study tour framework is teamwork. This was expressed by one of the students of the study tour.
We achieved all the objectives we set out to complete.... I state 'we' in this instance because of the sheer amount of teamwork involved which could only have been achieved through the excellent level of communication between tutors and students, and students and student, even though most of us came from different years.


Caffarella, R.S. (2000). Goals of self-learning. In G. A. Straka (Ed), Conceptions of self-directed learning: Theoretical and conceptual considerations (pp. 37-48). Munster, Germany: Waxmann.

CarrŽ, P. (2000). From intentional to self-directed learning. In G. A. Straka (Ed.), Conceptions of self-directed learning: Theoretical and conceptual considerations (pp. 49-58). Munster, Germany: Waxmann.

Do, K. & Siew, A. (Eds) (2005). REC[record] Vietnam: Research, experience, capture. Perth: Curtin Print and Design.

Gerber, R., Lankshear, C., Larsson, S., & Svensson, L. (1995). Self-directed learning in a work context. Education & Training, 37(8), 26-33.

Hammond, M., & Collins, R. (1991). Self-directed learning: Critical practice. London: Nichols/GP Publishing.

Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. New York: Associate Press.

Porth, S. J. (1997). Management education goes international: A model for designing and teaching a study tour course. Journal of Management Education, 21(2), 190-199.

Terenzini, P. & Wright, T. (1987). Influences on students' academic growth during four years of college. Research in Higher Education, 26, 161-179.

Topping, K. & Ehly, S. (Eds) (1998). Peer assisted learning. London: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Treston, H. (1999). Peer mentoring: Making a difference at James Cook University, Cairns - it's moments like these you need mentors. Innovations in Education and Training International, 36(3), 236-243.

Authors: Khoa Do is a lecturer in the Department of Architecture and Interior Architecture. His teaching, research and practice includes architectural: design, history, graphics, modelling and construction. He is currently researching for a PhD in Architecture that focuses on domestic architecture in Vietnam.
Khoa Do, Department of Architecture and Interior Architecture, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U1987, Perth, Western Australia 6845. Email: k.do@curtin.edu.au

Adelyn Siew is currently revising her PhD dissertation that focuses on the architecture of government primary schools in Perth, Western Australia. She also teaches in the Department of Architecture and Interior Architecture. She is passionate about creativity and seeks innovations in teaching and learning techniques. She includes a variety of media in her lectures and encourages her students to do so in their own seminar sessions.

Please cite as: Do, K. and Siew, A. (2006). REC [Research, Experience, Capture]: A study tour of self directed exploration. In Experience of Learning. Proceedings of the 15th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 1-2 February 2006. Perth: The University of Western Australia. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2006/refereed/do.html

Copyright 2006 Khoa Do and Adelyn Siew. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.

[ Refereed papers ] [ Contents - All Presentations ] [ Home Page ]
This URL: http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2006/refereed/do.html
Created 13 Jan 2006. Last revision: 13 Jan 2006.