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By Gabrielle Kennedy

One group of students has tapped into the buzz surrounding Design Academy Eindhoven’s educational reforms by asking to play a part. Rather than receive an outline of the changed system, they insisted that they be involved from the outset by designing a new course that they could run independently as a group.  They are calling it Open Lab and it is a trial course designed and run by participating third-year students.

Under the old system, Lab 2 was a trimester devoted to exploring personal fascinations often with a technological edge.  Students could engage in their own topics, delving into fresh angles that lead to exciting outcomes.  In this way the course was relatively free, but it was set up, defined, monitored and assessed by appointed teachers.

“And that wasn’t what we really wanted,” says Alvin Arthur, a third year Food Non Food student.  “We wanted to define our own education, have more of a say in what was included, how it evolved, and even how it was assessed.”

In Open Lab students started by designing a complete framework.  “We had to be very organized,” says Jim Brady, a third year Man and Communication student.  “To think in terms of how to divide tasks, how to document and contextualize everything.  We needed a timeline for the journey that factored in peer and mentor assessment, and adequate time for reflection.”

Lab 2 students approached director of education Jurriënne Ossewold with their plan.  “We explained to her that we wanted to maintain the same vibe as Lab 2, but to take it into the third year, and to be in control,” says Brady.

It was a controversial request, but Ossewold was on board with the idea from the outset. 

The semester started with each student presenting a personal portfolio and explaining themselves to the group. This helped the class to define a vision that closely connected to the strengths and interests of each individual.  They also had to divvy up a budget and hire mentors based on group consensus. “We thought about who we wanted to guide us, and then we voted,” says Brady.  “It was all extremely democratic.”

Immediately the students felt the benefits of the experiment and their positivity soon spread.  The class expanded from a modest 11 to 17.  “Right from the start there was unanimous approval,” says Arthur.  “In a design department we are always with the same group, but with this we confronted different people under different circumstances.  It was an entirely new dynamic, which was not so bound up by any particular departmental culture.”

The results of the first stage of the trial were carefully documented and presented to Ossewold.  “But even after that our ideas evolved,” says Arthur.  “It was an ongoing process because as time went on students became both more confident in themselves and more sure about what they needed from the course.”

One of the more unexpected lessons the students took away from Open Lab was learning how to deal with bureaucracy and democracy.  They found out that every decision takes three periods to be finalized.  “It starts with the initiators,” says Brady. “Then all voices have to be heard, and finally a system of open anarchy has to be found an agreed on that works.”

For this first crop of 17 students that deliberative approach worked, but it was never easy. “Of course it was scary,” says Brady.  “In the beginning some of us were unsure.  It is about building trust not just in each other, but in what we are doing.  This is our one shot at a good education, so we had to get it right.”

And of course there were the egos, the opinions and the stubbornness.  “We had to learn about compromise, which as creatives wasn’t always easy,” says Arthur.  “One thing that helped was the special classes arranged by each participant.  I gave a class on self-confidence through body motion, and Jim gave one on inspiration through sound and image.  These classes were a great way to get to know and respect each other.”

Throughout it was important for the group’s credibility (and for the trial to be accepted as a proper minor) for students to show the whole school community how their vision was developing.  They organized four exhibitions including an end-term at the Design Huis in Eindhoven, “How to Open-Lab”. 

As Open Lab draws to a close the students say that ideally it would increase from 2 to 4 days to really achieve its goals.  If the course is accepted as an official minor, then it will be allocated the full 4 days for completion.   “Setting up a course involves much more than we thought,” says Brady.  “To really do it well, we felt we needed more time.”

But they also agree that an Open Lab should never be too tightly defined.  Rather, each new group should set its own parameters and bring to the course a fresh take.

And even though all the participating students started and continued to the end with a personal design project, these did end up secondary to the process of creating, administering and maintaining the educational unit.

“We have a lot of information now that we can pass on,” says Arthur, “and we have built a lot of bridges to both other schools and to other designers and studios.  Hopefully the next class can take advantage of that.”


“How To Open Lab” was the groups end-term exhibition at Design Huis in June in Eindhoven.  It was a raw show the revealed all the spirit, responsibilities, confusion and enrichment that being involved in administering one’s own education means.

Published: 28-Jun-2016 15:51
  • Student-Driven Learning

  • Student-Driven Learning

  • Student-Driven Learning

  • Student-Driven Learning

  • Student-Driven Learning

  • Student-Driven Learning

  • Student-Driven Learning

    Images from the final Open Lab exhibition held at Design Huis in Eindhoven from 10th to 12th June 2016