University of Dundee


Transformative Learning, Activism and Reflexivity in Education – from design to the social sciences
A direct engagement with a community challenges students from every discipline to work with real problems, real places, and real people: whether they come from design fields, the arts and humanities, social studies and social work, geography or community studies. It demonstrates that concepts drawn on the computer screen or developed in theory in a classroom have consequences, but also have the potential to make transformative change in the real world. In engaging with transdisciplinary learning beyond the campus, on the outside, we can create a knowledge framework beyond the traditional disciplinary perspectives, enabling students to position themselves as critical practitioners and as citizens, and question the role (and responsibilities) of universities within wider society.

Active and reflexive learners and practitioners are essential to shaping and re-shaping our future places and practices. In allowing for the exploration of change in a place it allows us to embed the need for knowledge built by working with others and embedded within the social context. As we face the challenges of rapid urbanization, social and economic inequalities and the climate emergency, our students need to be equipped to navigate a super-complex and uncertain world. Understanding the complexity of place and societal issues, and our roles as designers, advisors or practitioners in various fields is essential. In shaping and re-shaping places, services and community practices of various sorts, students have the opportunity to look holistically at the inter-connection of society, structures, and space, but also to understand how they might contribute and be part of the problem they are addressing and its solution.

If it is said that “the people coming out of the world’s best colleges and universities are leading us down the current unhealthy, inequitable, and unsustainable path” how might education change direction?

 Asking this question with a particular interest in the built environment and design, the team at the University of Dundee welcome topics that include but are not limited to:

Civic mindedness  |  Critical practice  |  Transformative pedagogy  |  Transdisciplinary design  |  Community activism  |  ‘Live’ projects  |  Collaboration and co-design  |  Participatory practices and research.


Part of the conference Transformative Teaching : See Full Call

Place and Research


Dundee (Scotland, UK) considers education as supporting community embeddedness. By positioning reflexive learners and practitioners through situated learning in place we can explore the complexity of the real problems challenging society and the environment that we live in. This highlights the need to construct learning as an act of citizenship, using education as a driver for continuous and inclusive learning beyond the traditional university boundaries. This is particularly true at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee, where we see design activism as part and parcel of our teaching and our research. Across DJCAD our diverse range of research supports widening thinking on how we understand complex issues and apply those within the context of learning.

Individual creative practices continue to play a major role in our research culture along with collaborative and interdisciplinary research, and themes range across Interdisciplinary Design & Innovation; People, Landscape, and Environment; Secure Digital Futures and Visual Practice, Curation, and Critique. Examples of projects include ‘GROW Observatory’ centrings around a design framework and operational information system for climate action at scale; ‘TIDE’, a multi-layered creative research project examining the uniquely dynamic nature of tides in the U; and ECZEMA! a cumulative performance work commissioned by National Theatre Wales to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS.

More details are available at DJCAD research

Research within Architecture and Urban Planning is equally diverse and relates to issues such as planning, sustainable place-making and community engagement; social mobilities and spatial inequalities; urban culture and society.

An example is our consideration of the legacy of Patrick Geddes. In particular, we are examining his concern with the synoptic view encompassing ‘land work folk’, defined as a form of latter-day humanism (an update on a renaissance ideal). It is an approach through which we channel our research practices into urban and rural environments.

More information is available at Architecture and Urban Planning research



Kirsty Macari, Helen O’Connor, Paul Gault and Andrew Milligan

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