Crafting Connected Knowledge: Collaborative and Problem-Based Pedagogy for the Studio Craft and Design School

Dr Rohan Nicol and Niklavs Rubenis
2015 Conference

Complex problems and opportunities increasingly evade resolution or fulfillment through the approach of a single discipline. Problem-based and collaborative learning (C&PBL), while not new, recognises the value and limits of disciplinary based knowledge and prepares students to engage with significant and complex issues.

Studio based craft and design (C&D) education programs have been slow and sometimes resistant to C&PBL. Motivated perhaps to safeguard craft knowledge by roping off the discipline from the interference of ‘corrupted’ practices. This has often contributed to an impression of a discipline out of touch and perhaps out of time.

This paper examines a new course ‘Multiples and Production: The Unique Offering’ (M&P), a key element of recent refinements to C&D courses and programs at the Australian National University, School of Art (ANU SoA). M&P uses the domestic table as a location and setting for the course and introduces students to a field spanning bespoke to industrial production, and asks one simple and complex question: ‘Why make anything for a world already filled with stuff? This course operates outside the usual disciplinary domains of C&D by interrogating the way we produce, consume and understand domestic objects.

We argue that C&PBL can connect C&D pedagogy to some of the most salient issues of our time and that this approach provides C&D students with strategies and skills to conduct an agile practice in a rapidly changing and complex world.

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About the author

As an active craftsman, academic and curator, Rohan Nicols interests are focused through the lens of jewellery, silversmithing and design. His recent work has identified linkages between intimate domestic experience and action, and how this is tied to global experience and challenges. In other projects, Nicol has established and articulated the nature and significance of intellectual property generated by the creative sector, to the Australian innovation system and identified the factor conditions critical to fostering creative innovation.

He has been the recipient of teaching awards and grants for pedagogical innovations achieved through research-led approaches to teaching. He holds Qualifications from the Australian National University and Charles Stuart University, where he was awarded a PhD.  His awards include the prestigious Bombay Sapphire design award and funding to conduct research from the Australia Council and Australian Universities. He regularly exhibits at peak venues in Australia and internationally and is published internationally. His work is held in collections including the Powerhouse Museum and the National Gallery of Australia.


Niklavs Rubenis is a lecturer in the Furniture Workshop at the School of Art, Australian National University, and currently Acting Head of Workshop for semester 2, 2015.

Professionally he has been employed across many aspects of the furniture and design sectors. This has included high scale manufacture; computer aided design and computer aided manufacture (CAD/CAM); computer numeric control and laser technology; commercial cabinetry; production and fine furniture making; shop and museum fit-out; exhibition design; project and design management; public art; urban design; musical instrument making and teaching at community, trade and university levels.


Currently undertaking a PhD at ANU, Rubenis’ research revolves around the wicked action of design practice and how the act of design is both part problem and part solution. He recently presented his research at the international conference Unmaking Waste 2015, and has co-authored several papers around problem-based design pedagogies.

Rubenis maintains an active and varied studio practice that includes national and international exhibitions, and private and commercial commissions. Recent work includes a lighting installation at the Museum of Australian Democracy and a design-construct fit out for the new Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre concept store AGENCY.