Virtual Studios (2): Practical Ways to Consider Implementing Virtual Studio Principles

Virtual studios were marked in The 2019 Innovating Pedagogy Report as one of the “top ten” innovations that may come into their own this year. In this, the second post in the virtual studio series, I will be discussing high-level practices to use the internet to transition your studio more into a virtual studio. These ideas will be further explored in future articles in the series where I will focus on specific software/platforms to use as well as interview educators using a virtual studio model. Don’t teach in a studio-based discipline? Do not despair! At its root, a discussion of implementing virtual studios is a discussion of space/place. It is consciously reimagining new ways to promote interaction. This reimagining is valuable not because the old ways are, but rather because there may well be new potential discovered in curiosity and iteration.

Studio pedagogy is the signature pedagogy of art and design education. Signature pedagogies are the “types of teaching that organize the fundamental ways in which future practitioners are educated for their new professions” (Shulman, 2005, p. 52). Signature pedagogies train “high touch” practitioners such as artists/designers, actors, lawyers, clergy, nurses, and physicians. Students learn in a holistic manner that allows them to develop both the mental awareness and the physical embodiment of what it means to be a practitioner.

In signature pedagogies, where you learn is tied to how you learn and vice versa. For an art or design educator these are the walls, tables, etc. of the studio which show off and share in-process work. The importance of place begs the question, what happens and how can you shift learning spaces, moving activities traditionally conducted in face-to-face proximity to online or screen-based methods?

It was this question that led me to my doctoral research, a grounded theory study on how graphic design educators use the internet to decentralize their studios. My investigation resulted in a theory known as the Replication-Collaboration Continuum, seen in Figure 1.  Though the continuum is simple in construct, it provides a high-level framework of potential practices. These practices can then help demystify a transition from the fully physical to the more virtual.

Figure 1. The Replication Collaboration Continuum

I will now briefly outline each segment of the continuum providing, from my research, both benefits and practical ways to use the internet to create more of a virtual studio. (Disclaimer: If you do not come from a studio tradition remember, considerations of space/place are important to all. Still aren’t convinced? Imagine the experience of teaching in a plush lecture hall with good acoustics and flattering lighting. Then imagine the experience of teaching in a crowded, overheated, overly bright converted storage room. Clearly, considerations of space/place are relatable for everyone!)

Segment 1: Shifting Structures


Virtual studios shift the primary face-to-face structure of traditional studios. Teaching, accessing materials, and overall communication methods previously only done in a face-to-face manner can now happen using screen-mediated methods.


  • Eases instructor burden of trying to cover too much content in too short of course sessions
  • Provides an easily accessible centralized resource repository
  • Better accommodate diverse learners who must balance multiple family/work/school responsibilities
  • Foster an on-going course dialogue through asynchronous chat

Practical Ways to Shift Structures:

  • Create a course materials blog
  • Use team communication software
  • Record content or skills learning videos and implement a flipped classroom

Segment 2: Shifting Roles


Virtual studios shift the underlying hierarchical structure of traditional studios. Where previously the instructor was positioned at the center of the teaching experience, with expanded access to one another and an encouragement to learn from outside resources, the studio space opens up. Students can teach one another new skills and learn from experts outside the studio. The instructor becomes less the single solo master in a room full of apprentices because each participant claims agency and the ability to find their resources.


  • Help build greater confidence in learners
  • Help learners better own their educational experience
  • Gives learners practice engaging in the world as a professional

Practical Ways to Shift Roles:

  • Online critique
  • Peer-to-peer learning
  • Allow students to define project focus, create learning outcomes, rubrics, etc.
  • Provide a loose framework for projects and let students define/manage timeline

Segment 3: Shifting Perspectives


Virtual studios, in their ability to include participants who may be outside the learners own cultural, geographic, or disciplinary zone, can introduce greater project complexity into the learning process. This complexity matches that most often found in professional practice where clients interactions happen less frequently face to face and more regularly at a distance. Students move from mastering simplicity to navigating complexity.


  • Help learners balance competing priorities and perspectives
  • Help learners work cross-discipline + cross culture
  • Help learners see themselves as connected professionals
  • Help develop empathy

Practical Ways to Shift Perspectives:

  • Collaborative projects with other learners in geographically distant locations
  • Collaborative projects with other learners in other disciplines
  • Bringing in outside experts/guests via video conference software
  • Opening up the learning experience to the general public via social media or community partnerships

Regardless of your discipline, space/place impact you in some way. There is value in periodically assessing your pedagogical practices, becoming curious about the “why?” behind each activity. For example, are there some things you are doing in the same places you’ve always done them because…that’s just the way you’ve always done them? Perhaps shifting space or place could shift the experience and open space for something new to emerge.

In closing, has getting curious about your own teaching space/place sparked some new ideas for you? Or do you have additional practices that work well for you? Let us know in the comments below.


Shulman, L. (2005). Signature Pedagogies in the Professions. Daedalus, 134(3), 52–59.


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