Student Identity + Agency

How can we empower students to shape their own identities and exercise agency in their learning experience?

One way of understanding built environments education is as a process of identity transformation from student to emerging practitioner. This foregrounds student agency and emphasises the value of self-reflection. As educators, our role is to support students to develop not only skills and knowledge but their professional identity. Research in this area explores how identities develop and what curricular and pedagogical strategies most effectively support this process.

What does BEL+T investigate in this area?

BEL+T explores various aspects of student identity and agency in built environments education, including:

  • The development of architectural identity through personal narratives and stages of professional growth.
  • The potential of pedagogical partnerships between staff and students in design education to enhance student agency.
  • The importance of focusing on students’ personal and professional transformation, considering factors such as student wellbeing, motivation, and sense of belonging.
  • The role of collaboration in shaping student identity and engagement in design education and the transition from academic to professional life.

How are these contributing to high-quality and relevant learning experiences?

Through its research, BEL+T has achieved the following outcomes:

  • An in-depth understanding of how aspiring architects transform through curricular and co-curricular experiences.
  • A proposal for pedagogical partnerships in design education, encouraging co-creation and student involvement in shaping learning experiences.
  • A shift in focus towards holistic student support, emphasizing the interconnected nature of academic and personal development in architectural education.
  • Insights into the importance of collaboration and team-based design projects in developing student identity and preparation for professional careers.

What is next on the horizon?

Moving forward, BEL+T aims to explore new directions in student identity and agency within built environments education:

  • Investigating the process of identity development across other disciplines and learning contexts.
  • Examining innovative pedagogical approaches, including assessment design, that empower students to take charge of their learning and foster their sense of agency.
  • Examining the role of technology and virtual environments in facilitating student engagement, collaboration, and identity development.
  • Assessing the long-term effects of student agency and identity formation on career trajectories and lifelong learning in built environment disciplines.


  • Flipping the Script

    This editorial piece introduces a special issue of Charrette, the journal of the association of architectural educators, which attempts to "foreground the architecture student." As a whole, the issue contributes to the ongoing and critical conversation of how students experience architectural education. The editorial reviews research on architecture from 30 years prior, as well as some key scholarship on identity in higher education, in an attempt to help reframe our priorities and practices as educators. This comes in the wake of a noticeable shift across higher education whereby student life is now considered inseparable from one’s academic experience, sparking questions surrounding how academics might contribute to making universities more supportive and inclusive environments.

    Thompson, J. (2020). Flipping the Script: Foregrounding the architecture studentCharrette 6(1), 1-8.

  • Exploring the Potential for Pedagogical Partnerships in Design

    As the notion of co-creation, or productive partnerships between staff and students, achieves increasingly popularity across disciplinary and institutional contexts, the offshoot idea of students and staff partnering on pedagogical scholarships is gaining traction. In design education contexts, however, where the boundary between pedagogical scholarship and studio-based practice tends to be blurry, this model has yet to take hold. What might pedagogical partnerships in design look like, and what benefits might they offer to all constituent parties? This paper explores the topic, drawing connections between scholarship of design education and several well-established pedagogical partnerships around the world. The prospects of students and educators collaborating on pedagogical inquiry includes more authentic feedback loops for improving educational quality and relevance, as well as deepening students' agency in shaping their learning and development.

    Thompson, J. (2020). From Engagement to Empowerment: Exploring the Potential for Pedagogical Partnerships in Design. Design Research Society (DRS)

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