Virtual Studios (1): An Introduction to Studios and Studio Pedagogy

The 2019 Innovating Pedagogy Report from the Open University highlights ‘Virtual Studios’ as one of the ten pedagogical trends that might come into their own in the coming years. You can read a general summary on AACE Review. This post is the first in a series on virtual studios, and provides an introduction of studios and studio pedagogy. Next in the series will be a discussion of practical ways you can either use the Internet to turn your studio more into a virtual studio or begin using a studio-based framework to add some virtual studio principles to your teaching practice. Next will be a review relevant software that can be used to facilitate a virtual studio. The series will conclude with a number interviews with educators currently using virtual studios.

But before we jump in, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lisa Hammershaimb, and I am pleased to be the newest member of the AACE Review writing team. I am a graphic design educator who researches the intersection of studio pedagogy and online learning. I am particularly interested in community, presence, and the porous borders between here/there + digital/physical that happens when traditional place-based communities are decentralized using the internet.

As someone with a deep background in studio pedagogy, I was very happy and intrigued to see “Virtual studios” as a top ten innovation. What does a studio involve? Good question!! In the studio, place, and pedagogy intimately join. The report notes that learning in a studio environment “involves social interaction and collaboration” and the studio is a “hub of activity.” Also, learning is “…experiential and constructive. The focus is on developing creative process” (p. 30). Where you learn is tied to how you learn and vice versa.

Because at this point you might be thinking that a virtual studio sounds like another name for an online classroom that emphasizes connected learning, curiosity, and collaboration, let’s back up a bit and dig a bit into studio pedagogy.

What is studio pedagogy?

In a studio subject like fine art and design education, learning happens in a collaborative, open manner. The studio space is the lecture hall, the homework space, and the assessment space all in one. Indeed, the area itself is thought to be a vital non-human actor in the education process (Nottingham, 2014). Feedback is given at all stages of the process and by all participants in the studio. Work too is seen at all stages of the process and by all participants in the studio. Knowledge is a more a campfire conversation where the centralized element of the created artifact orients everyone together.

In contrast, in a subject like english or geography, students might have a lecture component where they gather in a classroom or lecture hall to receive information. This is then followed by homework or projects completed on their own, outside of the classroom. Finally, students turn in their work. The instructor then conducts an assessment of the work (generally apart from the student), gives feedback and finally returns work to the student. Though this is a radically simplified description, in the vast majority of disciplines learning tends to happen in a solo/linear manner. Knowledge is a baton passed from instructor to student to instructor and then finally back to the student.

Virtual studios are studios that leverage the internet to decentralize studio learning spaces. These studio spaces can either occur in tandem with real face-to-face studios or replace a physical studio space by using a combination of text-based forums and video conferencing software (Nottingham, 2014). Educators who extend studio pedagogy in these ways cite that online studio spaces allow design collaboration to transcend time and distance, and thus prepare learners to become active members of the digitally-connected arts community (Budge, 2013; Matthews & Weigand, 2001). Because working as a contemporary graphic designer requires collaboration via technology-mediated methods, educators affirm that using the internet to extend studio pedagogy could provide students with a “rehearsal of future workplaces and help prepare students for a global, networked, and competitive professional design practice” (Pektas, 2015, p. 261).

Virtual studios open up many beneficial pathways but they also come at a cost. Space, place, and proximity are considered to be the traditional hallmarks of studio pedagogy. Some arts educators go so far as positing that separation of time or distance negates learning. There is an inherent tension surrounding virtual studios. How do participants navigate the experience when they are decentralized? How can one navigate, manage, and sustain the dialogic nature of studio pedagogy, and the studio community, when the internet replaces what were once core pedagogical pillars? These are questions that art and design educators are currently debating. Virtual studios may be an “innovative pedagogy” to some, but to others they are bordering on heretical, practiced only by rebels.

In closing, viewpoint and context are key factors in determining appropriate pedagogical practice. The following questions are ones I believe all educators must confront on one level or another when considering virtual studios:

  1. In your unique context, what might decentralizing learning spaces enable?
  2. In your unique setting, what might decentralizing learning spaces prevent?

What do you think? How are you (or would you) incorporate a decentralized activities in your own learning space? Is this practice accepted in you institution or discipline or are you one of the rebels? Let us know in the comments below.

Lisa Hammershaimb

Dr. Lisa Hammershaimb is a graphic designer and design educator whose research investigates connection, presence, and the porous borders between here/there + digital/physical. Through her work Lisa aspires to create opportunities for connection that transcend place and time, opening the opportunity for an organic inclusive community to thrive. Lisa blogs about graphic design, online learning, identity and other assorted curiosities at and is on Twitter as @merryspaniel.


Budge, K. (2013). Virtual studio practices: Visual artists, social media and creativity. Journal of Science and Technology of the Arts, 5(1), 15-23. doi:10.7559/citarj.v5i1.84

Matthews, D., & Weigand, J. (2001). Collaborative design over the Internet. Journal of Interior Design, 27(1), 45-53.

Nottingham, A. (2014). Reshaping design education: Teaching graphic design online and onsite (Unpublished Master’s thesis). Melbourne, AU: Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Pektas, S. (2015). The virtual design studio on the cloud: A blended and distributed approach for technology-mediated design education. Architectural Science Review. 58(3), 255-265.






Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to write a comment.

Your feedback