Previous authors have discussed non-Western design forms with regards to the significance of integrating global issues, diversity issues in design curricula, and designing in diverse cultural settings. However, there are few studies that examine instructional approaches that use non-Western African design forms. The purpose of this study was to develop and test instruction on Nigerian and South African spatial forms in an Interior Design studio in a Southwestern University (N=17). The study focused on how students responded to the instruction, their ability to synthesize design ideas for different cultural settings using design theories, their utilization of examples from non-Western perspectives as references for discussing design, and their ability to solve design problems in a different cultural setting. The hope was that the extent to which their skills improved will significantly prepare them for a diverse and global society.
The instruction was developed using one facet of ACT-R learning theory (Anderson, 1995), anthropological methods (Creswell, 2009; Hall, 1966; Kingsolver, 1998; O'Reilly, 2005; Silverman, 2005), and Grant's pedagogical approaches (Grant, 1991). The distinction between declarative and procedural knowledge was used to help students learn about Nigerian and South African spatial forms and how to apply those forms. Anthropological methods were used to elucidate information about Nigerian and South African design aesthetics. Grant's (1991) pedagogical approach of introducing diversity in design education was embedded in the instruction using three steps: the inclusion, contribution, and transformational approaches.
An ethnographic study which combined a case study methodology from educational research and the comparative method from anthropology encapsulated the experiences of participants. The data sources were pre- and post-test questionnaires, observational data, video recording, actual design projects developed by participants, and interview data. Multiple data sources indicated the instructional design process was successful in helping students problem-solve in a different cultural setting. It highlighted the importance of helping students with the development of declarative knowledge on Nigeria and South Africa, teacher-centered and discovery methods, and constant feedback as a way to foster automatization (Anderson, 1995).
Participants responded positively to the instruction. The data showed they used a combination of abstract and concrete themes derived from Nigerian and South African cultures to develop their design solutions. Participants demonstrated their understanding of diverse background of design theories in their creative thinking, critical thinking and decision-making processes during the study. This was evident in how the different student groups articulated their spatial organization, implemented aspects from the cultures artistic expressions in their solutions, and demonstrated an understanding of color and materials from the different cultures. Evidence from different data sources such as the questionnaires, observational data, and interviews show that students were able to use examples from non-Western perspectives as references for discussing design ideas. Additionally, through multiple data sources, students report being better at solving design problems in a different cultural setting.