Ecological Design Thinking - Programme Structure

Programme Structure

The MA in Ecological Design Thinking is a full-time one-year programme. 

The MA is made up of a total of 180 credits which includes three design thinking modules (20 credits each) in the first term, two studio workshop modules (30 credits each) in the second term and a 60 credit final dissertation.

The MA may also be taken on a part-time basis over two to three years, using three different pathways.

Ecological Design Thinking Postgraduate Programme Pathways

Programme Type and Length  
Full Time 120 taught credits
60 credit dissertation
Part Time: Over 2 years Year 1: 60 taught credits
Year 2: 60 taught credits and dissertation
Part Time: Over 3 years Year 1: 60 taught credits
Year 2: 60 taught credits
Year 3: dissertation
PG Certificate: Full Time over 4 months 60 taught credits
PG Diploma: Full Time 120 taught credits
PG Diploma: Part Time over 2 years Year 1: 60 taught credits
Year 2: 60 taught credits

 

PG Diploma

Students studying this PG Diploma programme will take the three Ecological Design Thinking modules of the existing MA Ecological Design Thinking programme, each worth 20 Masters Credits and the two studio workshop modules, each worth 30 Masters Credits. Students enrolled on to the PG Diploma will study exactly the same material as the MA Ecological Design Thinking students during the first term and second terms. MA and PG Diploma students will live and study together, so there is no separation between the programmes.

Students may study the PG Diploma part-time over two years, starting with the PG Certificate material (three Term 1 modules) in the first year, followed by the remaining studio workshop modules in the second year. The course must be taken sequentially. 

PG Certificate

Students studying this PG Certificate programme will take the three Ecological Design Thinking modules of the existing MA Ecological Design Thinking programme, each worth 20 Masters Credits. Students enrolled on to the PG Certificate will study exactly the same material as the MA Ecological Design Thinking students during the first term. MA and PG Certificate students will live and study together, so there is no separation between the programmes.

There is no part-time option for the PG Certificate.

Assessment

All modules are assessed by 100% coursework, designed to reflect the requirements and work modes in the professions and career routes relating to this course. Assessments will take a variety of forms and can include essays, written journals, and presentations.

Modules

Module One: The Ecological Paradigm: Living Earth and the Anthropocene (20 credits)

This foundational module will explore the history and evolution of understanding of the Earth’s ecosystem, the latest understanding of critical ecological thresholds and theories of resilience, and their applications to, and implications for, design thinking.

Students will apply key principles of the ecological paradigm drawn from ecology and systems thinking, chaos and complexity science, and Gaia theory. They will explore applications (and the limitations) of applying principles from whole systems science to the built environment and the socio-cultural domain, exploring and critiquing existing frameworks and developing new approaches. The module will include deep ecology, personal and group enquiry practices to explore the interdependence between self, society, structure and nature. Students will map elements of the ecosystem of a given settlement applying and testing their understanding in the context of a particular place.

Students will be introduced to research methods such as, action research and reflective enquiry, learning journal, participatory learning methods and personal development planning.

Module Two: Social and Political Economy: From system maintenance to system transformation (20 credits)

This module builds on the understanding developed in the first module and uses it to comprehend the social, political and economic worlds as a complex and interrelated series of systems. Students will explore the evolution of social, political and economic systems, their interrelation, implication for design and the potential for design to expose and transform imbalances of power in the socio-political system.
The module will include an overview of the history of the evolution of economic thought; analysis of evidence of the systemic failings of neoclassical economics; a theoretical critique of the neoclassical economics paradigm from alternative schools of thought; and practical examples of the new economy. Students will analyse power and power structures in social, political and economic systems, explore alternative theories of social organisation, well-being, values and frames, the relationship between human behaviour and the design and evolution of settlements and systems.

These insights will be applied to future thinking and the development of a range of scenarios. Students will critique, explore and begin to propose design-based solutions to complex contemporary challenges from the way that we produce and consume energy, to patterns of work, settlements and the finance system.

Module Three: Ecological Design Thinking: Catalysing transformation (20 credits)

This module will introduce, and interrogate, key methodological approaches to Ecological Design Thinking using case studies, practical challenges and scenario planning to critically analyse and explore a range of existing methodologies and approaches, and encourage participants to develop their own. Methodologies and practices explored in this module may include industrial symbiosis, cradle to cradle design, zero carbon and energy design, biomimicry, building biology and permaculture design.

Students will explore theoretical and conceptual methods of engaging with and shaping settlements and built form, examine the nature of the built environment as a structure for lived social space; and the adaptation of form at the settlement scale by people and the elements. Studies of theoretical texts will deepen theoretical and critical understanding of a broad range of issues affecting cities such as the process of urbanisation, mobility, technology, socio-cultural patterns, political and economic dynamics, and emergent consequences locally, nationally and globally.

The module will also explore tensions between the act of design (in which interventions are often about imposing form/order) ecological principles (emergence, self-organization etc.) and social, political and economic power dynamics. Participants will be encouraged to develop approaches that might help to overcome these tensions, and to begin to explore what emergent ‘ecological design thinking’ looks like in practice.

Module Four: Ecological Design Thinking in Practice 1: Transforming the story of place (30 credits)

This module applies the understanding and practices developed in the first three modules to a particular design problem in a settlement. Students will analyse the context, develop briefs and undertake precedent analysis in developing their projects. They will critically examine the ecological, social, economic and cultural context of the given site and systematically test design solutions through a range of communication methods that address the identified issues. They will use Dartington’s and the wider Totnes (and/or Plymouth) landscape to explore different ecological design practices.

Assessments will be made of students’ ability to critically reflect on the theoretical context of their project drawn from the knowledge and practices gained in the first three modules, and to apply that knowledge in innovative and practical ways, and their ability to facilitate diverse groups and engage in collaborative processes of enquiry.

Module Five: Ecological Design Thinking in Practice 2: Transformation in action (30 credits)

The fifth module applies the understanding and practices developed in the first four modules, first through a short group project, and then in a short project placement developed in collaboration with a range of partner organisations.

Assessments will be made of students’ ability to build on knowledge and practices gained in the first four modules, and to apply that knowledge in innovative and practical ways in a dynamic live context. They will experiment with facilitating diverse groups, engaging in collaborative processes of enquiry. Students may work in small groups on a design project, a process plan, or a roadmap for a process.

Dissertation (60 credits)

he dissertation module enables students to undertake a substantial investigation that addresses significant areas of Ecological Design Thinking and practice.

Assessments will be made of students’ ability to apply knowledge gained over the course of the taught elements of the Masters in innovative and practical ways in a dynamic live, or exploratory, context. Students may work in small groups on a design project, or independently. They may also produce an academic dissertation relating to the evolution of Ecological Design Thinking. Students will be provided with a list of potential titles and projects, or are free to develop their own in consultation with the Primary Dissertation Supervisor.

Examples of indicative dissertation topics include:

  • From Climate Science to Climate Policy: A strategy to communicate the consequences of climate change to policy-makers
  • DIY economy: A dynamic approach to transforming the economy
  • Communities of Transition: A proposal for reinvigorating community participation beyond transition towns
  • Designing for place: a holistic approach to urban design
  • Making Ecological Design Thinking the meta-objective for design;
  • Designing for organisational intelligence in community enterprise
  • Designing for behaviour change: using values and frames to transform society for good.

Associated institutions

schumacher college in partnership with plymouth universitySchool of Architecture, Design and Environment, Plymouth University
The School was formed in 2009 to establish a vibrant multi-and interdisciplinary portfolio of courses and programmes, supported by a culture of research and research-informed teaching. The School has already won several prestigious international awards, has propagated a vibrant PGR community and receiving a special commendation for research environment and strategy from the Royal Institute of British Architects (BA Architecture Revalidation 2012).

School of Design, Carnegie Mellon UniversitySchool of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design is one of the oldest and most respected programs in North America, with a rich history in product, communication, and interaction design. It is one of only a few design schools to offer education across the full spectrum of learning – from pre-college to doctoral degrees – in a research setting renowned for its teaching innovations.

Transition NetworkThe Transition Network
The Transition Network supports an international movement to inspire, encourage, connect, support and train communities and organisations to rebuild resilience and reduce CO2 emissions.