By hand and by computer – a video-ethnographic study of engineering students’ representational practices in a design project

Jonte Bernhard, Jacob Davidsen, Thomas Ryberg

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/conference proceedingArticle in proceedingResearchpeer-review


In engineering education there has been a growing interest that the curriculum should include collaborative design projects. However, students’ collaborative learning processes in design projects have, with a few exceptions, not been studied in earlier research. Most previous studies have been performed in artificial settings with individual students using verbal protocol analysis or through interviews.  The context of this study is a design project in the fifth semester of the PBL-based Architecture and Design programme at Aalborg University. The students had the task to design a real office building in collaborative groups of 5–6 students. The preparation for an upcoming status seminar was video recorded in situ. Video ethnography, conversation analysis and embodied interaction analysis were used to explore what interactional work the student teams did and what kind of resources they used to collaborate and complete the design task. Complete six hours sessions of five groups were recorded using multiple video cameras (2 – 5 cameras per group). The different collaborative groups did not only produce and reach an agreement on a design proposal during the session – in their design practice they used, and produced, a wealth of tools and bodily-material resources for representational and modelling purposes. As an integral and seamless part of students’ interactional and representational work and the group’s collaborative thinking bodily resources such as “gestured drawings” and gestures, concrete materials such as 3D-foam and papers models, “low-tech” representations such as sketches and drawings by hand on paper and “high-tech” representations as CAD-drawings were used. These findings highlight the cognitive importance of tools and the use of bodily and material resources in students’ collaborative interactional work in a design setting. Furthermore, our study demonstrates that a focus primarily on digital technologies, as is often the case in the recent drive towards “digital learning”, would be highly problematic.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEducate for the future : PBL, Sustainability and Digitalisation 2020
Number of pages10
PublisherAalborg Universitetsforlag
Publication date2020
ISBN (Electronic)978-87-7210-313-6
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Event8th International Research Symposium on PBL -
Duration: 18 Aug 202018 Aug 2020


Conference8th International Research Symposium on PBL
SeriesInternational Research Symposium on PBL

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